The US government announced last week that it would support a waiver of Intellectual Property Protections on Covid-19 vaccine development, in a bid to boost the fight against the pandemic and increase access to vaccines to millions globally.
Ambassador Katherine Tai, the US Trade Rep said: “…administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines.
We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to make this happen.”
The move to support a Covid IP waiver also comes beneficial to countries such as China and India. WTO’s Nigerian head has also been calling for waivers.
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Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala had earlier warned about the dangers of “vaccine nationalism” which could affect the much-expected pandemic recovery, as well as decimate economic growth for all countries – rich and poor.
She added that the WTO could contribute a lot to ending the pandemic by prioritizing and implementing solutions as to how the WTO could make vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics accessible in an equitable and affordable fashion to all countries, particularly to poor countries, citing dangers that the global economy may face through losing $9 trillion in potential output if poor countries were unable to get their populations vaccinated quickly. About half of this impact would be borne by rich countries.
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It does not come as a surprise that Okonjo-Iweala also stated that Nigeria should start looking at establishing the capacity for manufacturing vaccines locally.
“I’ve been in the vaccine business for last 5-6 years. You need 4-5 years to get a plant approved to produce vaccines. I’m advocating that Nigeria should start looking now at establishing capacity for manufacturing vaccines locally. This is not going to be the last pandemic,” she said in her last visit to Nigeria.
FG’s response towards vaccine development
The Nigerian government announced during the end of the first wave of Covid in 2020 that it would be setting up a vaccine production company in Nigeria to boost local COVID-19 vaccine production. Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, added that the Health ministry would sign a PPP-MoU with a pharmaceutical company in Nigeria to set up the new company.
The FG also was not just doing the “talking” as earlier this year, the Ministry of Finance announced the sum of N10 billion for the production of vaccines in Nigeria, to fight the coronavirus.
“Nigeria is exploring options for licensed production, in collaboration with recognised institutions. We are also exploring the option of local production of the vaccines in the country,” The health Minister said.
Therefore it’s a no brainer that a Covid IP waiver is important to reduce the pandemic, and the countries that would benefit the most are the ones most ready with the skill and manufacturing capacity, as nobody wants to be caught napping during the next global pandemic.
Prince Nwafuru, an international trade lawyer at Paul Usoro & Co says waiving the IPs is beneficial to ending the pandemic, and it would benefit Nigeria immensely if all plans are followed through.
What the IP waiver means for Asian manufacturing nations like China and India. Will western drug manufacturers oppose the move?
“There is no contending with necessity, and we should be very tender how we censure those that submit to it. ‘Tis one thing to be at liberty to do what we will, and another thing to be tied up to do what we must,” English author Roger L’Estrange said about necessity,” Nwafuru quoted.
He added that the IP waiver proposed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) was driven by necessity and the need to address the scourge of the pandemic which had affected the global economy. Though the world’s top five pharmaceutical companies are in the USA and Europe, China and India still play huge roles in global supply chains in the industry.
“Therefore, the cooperation of China and India will be key to the success of the negotiation. On whether the drug manufacturers will oppose the move, it is too early to tell. And a lot will depend on the terms of the negotiations and the political will of the nations involved. It is important to add that the focus of the waiver is to aid the poor and developing countries.
The USA and Europe will ensure that other big drug manufacturing nations like China and India do not use the opportunity to the detriment of the West. India is currently battling its worst COVID 19 crisis in the world and the priority for such a country is to get all the help available at the moment. And you know that decisions at the WTO are reached by consensus. Therefore, the cooperation of the Member States is important at this critical point. Another area of concern is whether the waiver will negatively impact innovation. Some IP experts have also expressed concern in this regard. One of such IP experts I discussed with noted that the complexities involved in making vaccines mean that waiving IP rights won’t act as the magic wand,” he said.
With Nigeria talking about building a vaccine manufacturing sector, would this be beneficial for us?
“Of course yes,” he said.
Though Nigeria has not been hit hard like other developing economies such as India and South Africa, there is still the urgent need to bring in more vaccines to cater to the country’s teeming population as we cannot afford to take chances and be visited by the kind of issue going on India.
Since receiving the first batch of 3.9 million doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in March this year, Nigeria has been battling to access more supplies to cater to its 200 million population. Even with the 84 million doses of vaccines expected from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, we are yet to cover 20% of the population. The waiver will definitely help Nigeria to develop local capacity and provide for our local needs, given the difficulty being experienced in accessing the vaccines abroad,” he added.
Can Nigeria use it as a form of manufactured exports for AfCFTA?
He stated that Nigeria could tap into the opportunity provided by the waiver and incentives from the Federal Government to ramp up production that would serve not only the citizens but other nations on the continent.
“The thing about the AfCFTA is that it seeks to make the whole of Africa one nation. However, it is too early to make projections on such possibilities until the waiver is concluded. In any case, we have to meet local needs first before talking of exporting to other nations. Charity, they say, begins at home,” he said.
The Vaccine IP waiver is an opportunity for Nigeria to achieve economic diversification and build a skilled value chain that will also address Nigeria’s youth unemployment problem. Nigeria can look at India’s pharmaceutical industry which announced exports for the FY-21 (Apr 2020 – Mar 2021) at $24.44 billion, a record growth of 18.07 %. Exports during FY 2020 were $20.58 billion with a growth rate of 7.57%.
Nigeria will not be alone in this journey as Rwanda, South Africa and Senegal have also called for full vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa. Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, said last week that: “The only way to ensure vaccine equity is to produce more vaccines where they are needed … as Africa remains dependent on other regions for vaccines, we will always be at the back of the queue whenever there is scarcity.”
One more factor to consider, for there to be competent vaccine development, Nigeria must begin to invest more in STEM-related courses at the nation’s tertiary institutions.