Patents are a major barrier to access to life-saving medicines and vaccines, particularly in the Global South. In the international arena, Intellectual Property (IP) rights, such as patents, are largely governed by the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Recognising the significant hurdle that is posed by patents to access to vaccines and life-saving medicines, on 2 October 2020, South Africa and India had requested for the adoption of a waiver from the implementation, application and enforcement of relevant parts of the TRIPS Agreement in relation to prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19 (http://bit.ly/India-SouthAfrica_Proposal). However, this proposal has been met with strong opposition from some developed countries and is still being discussed at the WTO.
It should however be noted that, LDC members of the WTO, with respect to pharmaceutical products, are not required to implement or apply the various provisions –including those relating to patents– of the TRIPS Agreement until 2033, as per as 2015 WTO decision (http://bit.ly/LDCPharmaWaiver).
Nonetheless, Moderna, whose vaccine has proved to be highly effective, in a statement on 8 October 2020, pledged that, while the pandemic continues, they will not enforce their COVID-19 related patents against those making vaccines intended to combat the pandemic (http://bit.ly/Moderna_Statement).
It is also quite evident that programmes such as COVAX and GAVI cannot themselves overcome the present magnitude of global vaccine inequality.
In light of these facts:
(1) What can LDCs, such as Bangladesh –with a well-established pharmaceutical industry– do to further the cause of greater and more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines?
(2) How can LDCs, such as Bangladesh, and their domestic pharmaceutical industry capitalise on the unilateral easing of patent enforcement, as has been done by Moderna?
LDCs, such as Bangladesh, need to carefully consider all available domestic measures which may provide greater access to vaccines to their population, and collectively push for more aggressive international measures to provide equal access to the COVID-19 vaccine to people across the world, especially those in the Global South.