BRICS calls for fair and equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccines

Ahead of the WTO taking up a proposal by India and South Africa to waive patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines, the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (Brics) grouping has said it will work for “fair, equitable and affordable” distribution of vaccines.

During the Brics Summit on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had called on the grouping to back the move by India and South Africa to secure exemption from intellectual property agreements for vaccines. The proposal is already facing opposition from developed countries, including the US and European Union (EU) member states.

The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is expected to the take up the proposal for patent protection waivers on Friday, people familiar with developments said on Wednesday.

The Moscow Declaration adopted at the conclusion of the Brics Summit said the members of the grouping “will work to ensure that, when [the vaccine is] available, it is disseminated in a fair, equitable and affordable basis”. The declaration didn’t make any direct reference to the proposal by India and South Africa.

The declaration recognised the importance of “extensive immunisation” in preventing, containing and stopping the transmission of the Coronavirus, and supported cooperative approaches to expedite research, development and production of vaccine and therapeutics.

Participating in an online discussion on Tuesday, external affairs minister S Jaishankar said India will do everything possible to make vaccines affordable and accessible to people around the world.

The proposal submitted by India and South Africa to the TRIPS Council on October 2 stated that it is “important for WTO members to work together to ensure that intellectual property rights such as patents, industrial designs, copyright and protection of undisclosed information do not create barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and medicines or to scaling-up of research, development, manufacturing and supply of medical products essential to combat Covid-19”.

“As new diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines for Covid-19 are developed, there are significant concerns how these will be made available promptly, in sufficient quantities and at affordable price to meet global demand,” the proposal further said, adding developing countries could face difficulties in using flexibilities under TRIPS.

Among the Brics states, Russia has approved a vaccine though experts say this has been done without adequate testing, and China has granted emergency approval to three vaccines, including one meant only for military personnel. India has three vaccines that are in human trials.

Despite the currently strained India-China ties, Chinese President Xi Jinping too offered to work with India on vaccines during the Brics Summit. “Chinese companies are working with their Russian and Brazilian partners on phase-III clinical trials of vaccines and we are prepared to cooperate with South Africa and India as well,” he said.

Developing countries are looking to India’s extensive vaccine manufacturing and distribution capacities for help and the government organised a special briefing for the diplomatic corps on November 6 to discuss potential collaboration on vaccines.

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