Billionaire Bill Gates has said he does not think that lifting patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines would be helpful.
In a recent interview with Sky News, Gates - one of the richest people in the world - was asked about the current debate on whether the intellectual property rights of Covid-19 vaccines should be temporarily waived.
“Well, there’s only so many vaccine factories in the world. And people are very serious about the safety of vaccines,” he said.
“And so moving something that had never been done - moving a vaccine from say a J&J factory into a factory in India - it’s novel. It’s only because of our grants and our expertise that that can happen at all. The thing that’s holding things back in this case is not intellectual property.
“There’s not like some idle vaccine factory with regulatory approval that makes magically safe vaccines. You know you’ve got to do the trials on these things, and every manufacturing process has to be looked at in a very careful way.”
India and South Africa had previously gone to the World Trade Organisation last year to request a temporary waiver on Covid-19 vaccine patents. However, they proved to be unsuccessful.
Now, a second wave of Covid-19 has surged in India, with hospitals across the country turning away patients after running out of medical oxygen and beds.
Former President and UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson has called for increased political pressure to waive the patents. She was joined by over 150 heads of state and Nobel laureates in signing a letter calling on US president Joe Biden to support the proposal.
“The experts are very clear, even if one country does not have access to vaccines, it will not guarantee that the rest of the world will be safe, simply because you'll have variants that we are actually seeing,” she said.
Gates said that issues of vaccine supply do not have to do with patents, saying: “There’s all sorts of issues surrounding intellectual properties having to do with medicines, but not in terms of how quickly we’ve been able to ramp up the volume here.
“You know I remember how shocked people were when we said we were going to do second sources in these developing countries factories, you know that’s a novel thing. We got all the rights from the vaccine companies - they didn’t hold us back, they were participating. I do a regular phone call with the pharmaceutical CEOs to make sure that is going at full speed.”
However, Gates' comments have faced criticism. Nick Deardan of Global Justice Now hit back against Gates. Global Justice Now is a British organisation which campaigns on issues of social justice and development in developing countries.
“Disgusting from Gates here: ‘southern countries haven’t had it so bad, they should be pleased to get our excess vaccines when we’re done, there aren’t any idle factories’. Who appointed this billionaire head of global health? Oh yeah, he did,” Mr Deardan said on Twitter.
The director general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has also said that he supports a patent waiver.
“Waiving patents temporarily won’t mean innovators miss out. Like during the HIV crisis or in a war, companies will be paid royalties for the products they manufacture,” he wrote in the Guardian last week.
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