Vaccine copyright – a multi-billion dollar controversy

Vaccine copyright - a multi-billion dollar controversy 8
Vaccine copyright - a multi-billion dollar controversy 8

Joan McMeeken was one of the first Australian teenagers to be vaccinated against polio in the 1950s. Her mother, a physiotherapist, raised awareness that vaccination was `very, very necessary`.

McMeeken is currently a specialist at the Faculty of Dentistry, Medicine and Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

`People are anxious to get their children vaccinated, especially if they know someone who has polio,` she said.

As news of the polio vaccine’s success spread widely, the product’s creator faced questions about intellectual property rights.

`Who owns the vaccine patent? Everyone. There is no such thing as a patent. Do you hold the patent on the sun?`, Dr. Salk said.

More than 60 years since he expressed this opinion, the world is struggling with Covid-19.

Purpose of vaccine patents

Vaccine patents are created to prevent competitors from copying a pharmaceutical company’s work and launching similar products.

Health workers prepare a dose of Covid-19 vaccine at the NSW Immunization Center in Homebush, Sydney, May 10.

Manufacturers apply for intellectual property rights when they think drugs and vaccines will be profitable or play an important role in society.

Why are patents important?

The cost of developing drugs and vaccines is extremely high.

Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, of the Flinders University of Medicine and Public Health, is leading vaccine research at Vaxine in Adelaide.

`Patents are born to recognize efforts to develop a new technology. We have been researching vaccines for 20 years, pouring in more than 50 million USD. It would not be fair if we invested 20 years of effort and all

Petrovsky sees patenting new versions of vaccines as a driving force behind innovation.

Vulnerabilities and controversies in vaccine intellectual property rights

Associate professor of public health at La Trobe University, representative of the Australian Public Health Association, Ms. Deborah Gleeson, commented that the Covid-19 crisis highlights patent loopholes.

`The development of Covid-19 vaccines and other products is supported by a large amount of money from the government,` she said.

Late last year, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) estimated that six vaccine research projects received $12 billion in public funds during the pandemic.

Many experts say the patent hinders efforts to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

Vaccine copyright - a multi-billion dollar controversy

People are vaccinated with AstraZeneca vaccine at the Central Mosque, Ehrenfeld city, Germany, May 8.

Throughout the pandemic, experts have repeatedly emphasized the inequity in vaccine distribution between rich and poor countries.

`Asia, Africa and South America are capable of producing vaccines. They can do this if they have access to information and technologies. Up to now, the governments of many major countries have not urged the pharmaceutical industry to share

But Dr. Petrovsky said that lack of production capacity is the factor affecting supply, not patents.

He said Australia has virtually no vaccine development facilities, except for the government-owned Commonwealth Serum Laboratory (CSL).

`There is also a supply chain problem. Every piece of glass, plastic, rubber or distilled water is in serious shortage worldwide, because many countries buy up all those raw materials,` Mr. Petrovsky added.

Actions of countries during the pandemic

The Australian Public Health Association and Doctors Without Borders Australia have written an open letter, calling on the federal government to support a proposal not to patent Covid-19 vaccines.

Since October last year, India and South Africa have also led the idea of waiving intellectual property rights around anti-Covid-19 tools through the International Trade Organization (WTO).

Two decades ago, the WTO passed a temporary patent waiver, allowing poor countries to import cheap generic drugs to treat HIV, tuberculosis and malaria amid the health crisis.

Australia, the US and the European Union have not supported this proposal.

The United States and many wealthy countries lead in research and innovation, especially in medicine.

In the US, pharmaceutical companies are not limited when calculating drug prices.

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