His government relented to pressure Wednesday as members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) discussed a proposal by India and South Africa from last October to waive patents for both Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. No decision was made but America’s backing could turn the tide on a WTO decision.
“The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” US Trade Representative Katherine Tai wrote in a statement.
Some experts say that even with patents waived, much of the developing world doesn’t necessarily have the means to produce vaccines at the scale needed. There is an urgent need to simply share more of the rich world’s vaccines and to transfer technology to help poorer countries manufacture shots further down the line.
India, on the other hand, has fully vaccinated just over 2% of its population, or around 30 million people. It has administered more than 160 million Covid-19 vaccine doses since mid-January but doses are now in short supply for its nearly 1.4 billion people.
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.
Q: Will waiving vaccine patents help bring the pandemic to an end?
“It’s not just a matter of intellectual property. It’s also the transfer of know-how,” Thomas Bollyky, director of the Global Health Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, told CNN. “I don’t think there’s clear evidence that a waiver of an intellectual property is going to be the best way for that technology transfer to occur.”
That’s because waiving patents will not work in the same way for vaccines as it has done for drugs, Bollyky said. For example, with HIV drugs, manufacturers were more or less able to reverse-engineer them without much help from the original developer, whereas with vaccines, “it’s really a biological process as much as a product.”
The deal between AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India is a successful example of such technology transfer, Bollyky said, where the licensing of intellectual property happened voluntarily. “The question is what can we do to facilitate more deals like the one between AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India to have this transfer,” he said.
Still, waiving intellectual property rights will contribute to a global effort to ensure a sustainable, long-term vaccine supply, according to the World Health Organization’s Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, who said in March that it should be part of a global holistic approach to combating the virus. “We need to pull out all the stops,” he said.
WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY
Data shows Pfizer and Moderna can work against several variants
Pfizer/BioNTech: A study from Qatar found an estimated 89.5% effectiveness against the UK variant of B.1.1.7 two weeks or more after a second dose, the researchers wrote in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine. It was 75% effective against B.1.351, the variant first identified in South Africa, which is good news, as early real-life data showed that some other vaccines weren’t working against it. Most importantly, the vaccine was more than 97% effective in preventing severe disease or death, they said.
Moderna: This vaccine revs up the immune response against B.1.351 and the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil, Moderna said in a statement. The genetic material used as the basis of the vaccines is made in a lab and the sequence is easily tweaked. Moderna tested booster doses of either its current vaccine or a version designed specifically against B.1.351 in 40 people who had already been vaccinated six to eight months before.
Blood tests showed half of these volunteers had a low antibody response against the B.1.351 and P.1 variants before they got the booster shot. Two weeks after the booster, their antibody levels had grown against the so-called wild-type coronavirus — the variant most common around the world — as well as B.1.351 and P.1, Moderna said in the statement.
Nepal’s cases are surging. There’s a worry it could soon mirror India.
“What is happening in India right now is a horrifying preview of Nepal’s future if we cannot contain this latest Covid surge that is claiming more lives by the minute,” said Nepal’s Red Cross chairperson, Dr. Netra Prasad Timsina.
Daily infections in Nepal started rising in mid-April, several weeks after India’s second wave began. Now those cases are rising at an exponential rate, with a seven-fold increase on cases per 100,000 people in just two weeks. Last weekend, 44% of Nepal’s Covid tests came back positive, according to government figures, with more than 8,600 new cases on average being reported daily. Of particular concern is how Nepal’s fragile health system will cope, given it has fewer doctors per capita than India, and a lower vaccination rate than its neighbor.
Some predicted a pandemic baby boom. In the US, it’s been a baby bust.
December 2020 is the first month signs of a baby boom might have emerged, being around nine months after lockdowns came into effect. A more detailed breakdown of government birth data also shows the largest decline in births occurred in December, Catherine E. Shoichet writes.
The data confirms what some experts earlier predicted — that fewer births would slow population growth in the country, already hit by the increase in deaths and decrease in immigration.
ON OUR RADAR
- Up to 10,000 airline passengers at an airport in Sumatra, Indonesia, may have been tested for Covid-19 with reused nasal swabs in a scam that lasted for four months, police say.
- The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed the B.1.617 coronavirus variant first detected in India as a “variant of interest.” Here’s what that means.
- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has asked China to withdraw 1,000 donated doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, just two days after he got the shot himself. The vaccine isn’t authorized in the country.
- Hospitals in the Japanese prefecture of Osaka have no more beds available for severe Covid-19 patients, with bed occupancy rates surpassing capacity on Wednesday.
- New Zealand has suspended quarantine-free travel arrangements for flights from Australia’s most-populous state of New South Wales after an outbreak in Sydney.
TODAY’S TOP TIP
In the US, researchers assessed calls and texts to the national child abuse hotline Childhelp from March to May 2020 and compared them to the same period in 2019. The team found a 13.75% increase in total inquiries to the hotline from 2019 to 2020, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics on Monday.
Everyone should be on the lookout for signs of child abuse, experts say, not just people in social work, childcare or education. It’s important to report abuse as soon as it is spotted because it can cause permanent damage to developing brain and can contribute to life-long health issues, said Dr. Suzanne Haney, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, in an email.