Bill of Health - Globe and vaccine, covid vaccine

COVID ‘Compromise’ on International IP Underscores Need for New Approach

By Cynthia M. Ho

The leaked compromise regarding a “waiver” of international intellectual property (IP) obligations under the TRIPS Agreement for World Trade Organization (WTO) members has met harsh criticism as a shadow of the original proposal to waive international obligations regarding patent, trade secret, and copyright obligations relating to any COVID vaccine, treatment, diagnostic, or personal protective equipment (PPE).

The compromise excludes diagnostics, treatments, and PPE. It only narrowly modifies compulsory licenses of patents covering COVID vaccines. Moreover, it imposes additional restrictions on use of compulsory licenses. But still, multinational pharmaceutical manufacturers have protested even these modest changes from the status quo, arguing that there is no IP problem that needs to be fixed.

Clearly there is a problem. It has taken 18 months since the original Indian and South African proposal to get to this limited compromise, while gross vaccine inequity between wealthy and poor countries continues. In addition, the leaked compromise between four WTO members is still being debated — and even if agreement can be reached, it needs agreement of over 100 other WTO members. We need a new approach.

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Bill of Health - Globe and vaccine, covid vaccine

Decolonizing the Pandemic Treaty Through Vaccine Equity

By Tlaleng Mofokeng, Daniel Wainstock, and Renzo Guinto

In recent years, there have been growing calls to “decolonize” the field of global health. Global health traces its roots back to colonial medicine when old empires sought to address tropical diseases which, if not controlled, could be brought by colonizers back home.

Today, many countries in the Global South may have already been liberated from their colonizers, but the colonial behavior of global health continues to manifest in policies, funding, research, and operations.

Unlike the tropical diseases of the past, SARS-CoV-2 has affected rich and poor countries alike, but the tools for putting this pandemic under control — most notably vaccines — remain unevenly distributed across the world. As of October 27, 2021, 63.5% of individuals in high-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Meanwhile, in low-income countries, only 4.8% of the population has been vaccinated with at least one dose.

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Vial and syringe.

The Pandemic Treaty and Intellectual Property Sharing: Making Vaccine Knowledge a Public Good 

By Ellen ‘t Hoen

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the lack of regulation for the sharing of intellectual property (IP) and technology needed for an effective and equitable response to the crisis.

The Pandemic Treaty (or other legal instrument) scheduled for discussion at the World Health Assembly in the fall of 2021 should focus on establishing the norm that the IP and knowledge needed to develop and produce essential pandemic health technologies become global public goods. It should also ensure predictable and sufficient financing for the development of such public goods.

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Bill of Health - Globe and vaccine, covid vaccine

Access-to-Medicines Activists Demand Health Justice During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Brook K. Baker 

It was apparent from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic that a business-as-usual approach — perpetuating the biopharmaceutical industry’s intellectual property-based monopolies and allowing artificial supply scarcity and nationalistic hoarding by rich countries — would result in systemic failure and gross inequity.

The world had seen it all before, from the Big Pharma blockade of affordable antiretrovirals to treat HIV/AIDS, to the hoarding of vaccines by the global north during the H1N1 bird flu outbreak in 2009 and its stockpiling of Tamiflu.

Activists in the access-to-medicines movement quickly mobilized to combat the threat of vaccine/therapeutic apartheid.

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international connections concept art.

The Prospects for an IP Waiver Under the TRIPS Agreement

By Duncan Matthews and Timo Minssen

The informal meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council today, July 6, 2021, focuses international attention once more on prospects for a waiver of the TRIPS Agreement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regardless of whether an actual TRIPS waiver ultimately comes to pass, the real significance of these efforts lies in the increased focus they have placed on the role of IP and trade secrets in improving access and affordability, and scaling-up of manufacturing and supply of vaccines and other health-related technologies. These conversations have introduced the possibility of a rethinking of the relationship between IP, innovation, conservation, and access.

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Photo of person with gloved hand holding flask at lab bench.

US Support for a WTO Waiver of COVID-19 Intellectual Property – What Does it Mean?

By Jorge L. Contreras

On May 5, 2021, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that the U.S. would support a “waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic” currently being discussed at the World Trade Organization (WTO). This announcement, representing a reversal of longstanding U.S. policy toward intellectual property, came as a welcome surprise to much of the world, but elicited strong negative responses from the pharmaceutical industry as stock prices of leading vaccine producers sank.

In the short time since the announcement was made, there has been a fair amount of speculation, hyperbole, and misinformation on the topic. In this post, I offer an explanation of what just happened, and my guess as to what its likely effects will be, bearing in mind that the situation is fast-moving and somewhat unpredictable.

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Person smoking cigarette.

Should Smokers be Prioritized for COVID Vaccine?

Cross-posted from Harvard Law Today, where it originally appeared on February 2, 2021. 

By Jeff Neal

Should smoking be among the pre-existing health risks that qualify people for priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine? In a Zoom interview with Harvard Law Today, public health expert Carmel Shachar J.D./M.P.H. ’10 says the answer is yes. 

CDC guidelines, which most states are following as they launch mass vaccination programs, say people with certain underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk for hospitalization or death if they contract COVID-19 (also known as co-morbidities) should receive access to the vaccine before the general population. In Massachusetts, these individuals will be eligible to receive the vaccine in Group 4 of Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination rollout plan. But many have been surprised to see smoking listed among the qualifying conditions, alongside cancer and heart disease.

Shachar, the executive director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, says that smoking is often the result of structural and biological factors that make it more prevalent in historically marginalized communities, and that denying priority access for smokers would reinforce existing inequities. More practically, she says, “every time a person gets vaccinated, it’s good for the community.” 

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Person receiving vaccine.

What You Should Know About the COVID-19 Vaccine

Cross-posted from Harvard Law Today, where it originally appeared on December 3, 2020. 

By Jeff Neal

The race to approve and distribute a vaccine for COVID-19 got a huge shot in the arm this week.

On Tuesday, the United Kingdom approved a vaccine developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. On the same day in the United States, a panel of experts advising the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended a first-stage plan for distributing the vaccine to some of the most at-risk Americans. Separately, another advisory committee is set to meet twice in the coming weeks to evaluate for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the safety and efficacy of both the Pfizer vaccine and a similar one produced by Moderna.

To better understand the impact of these developments, Harvard Law Today recently spoke with public health expert Carmel Shachar J.D./M.P.H. ’10, the executive director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, about the vaccine, who is likely to get it first, and whether employers and states can require people to get vaccinated.

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Spoonful of sugar.

From “A Spoonful of Sugar” to Operation Warp Speed: COVID-19 Vaccines and Their Metaphors

By Ross D. Silverman, Katharine J. Head, and Emily Beckman

As professors studying public health policy, narrative medicine, and how providers and the public communicate about vaccines, we recognize the power and peril of using the rhetorical tool of metaphors in vaccination and, more broadly, the COVID-19 response efforts.

Metaphors can be an effective shorthand to help people understand complex ideas, but we also must remain cognizant of the many ways metaphors may distort, divide, or misrepresent important details.

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