Arvind Subramanian, former chief economic advisor of India and US economist Justin Sandefur have joined the increasing number of global experts calling for compulsory licensing, voluntary licensing and technology sharing of Covid-19 vaccines for more equitable vaccine response to the pandemic.
In a joint analysis published by US based Center for Global Development, Sandefur and Subramanian wanted US President Joe Biden to take the lead to end the "vaccine apartheid" by encouraging such measures.
The experts said that Covid-19 vaccine "manufacturing capacity was planned to supply Western markets almost exclusively, with a proprietary, intellectual property (IP)-based approach guaranteed to limit its spread. And money from donors was derisively small and never close enough to buy- or even signal to producers that there was sufficient demand for - vaccine doses to cover much of the developing world".
According to Sandefur and Subramanian, augmenting the supply of mRNA vaccines requires more than waiver of IP rights as regardless of the IP regime, no developing country has the technical wherewithal to produce the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines without significant technical assistance from these companies.
"If there can be progress on expanding manufacturing of these vaccines, the US government along with other governments will have to incentivise and force western pharmaceutical companies to share their technology and knowhow via voluntary licensing to similar companies in the developing world. The incentivization could take the form of guaranteeing commercial or near-commercial royalty rates by the international community", they propose.
Unlike the mRNA vaccines, the production of other vaccines, especially the ones which India already manufactures, can be boosted through compulsory licensing provisions as technology capability is already there with the developing world, they opine. According to them, if developing countries are still wary of issuing compulsory licenses due to fear of retaliatory action from the US or fear of losing future investments, it should be addressed.
"To signal that their seriousness and responsibility, developing countries should make good faith efforts to secure commitments on voluntary licensing from Western pharmaceutical companies before issuing compulsory licensing; committing to near-commercial terms for compulsory licenses would also signal good faith by clarifying that the motive is production not expropriation. Another sign of good faith would be if, e.g., India were to apply compulsory licensing not just to foreign vaccines, but also to domestically developed technology such as Bharat Biotech," the experts suggest.
They also wanted the governments of the US and Europe to forswear any recourse to legal proceedings against countries that use compulsory licensing. "The United States has a choice between two forms of soft power: Technological superiority and global apartheid or human immunity and Pax Americana," Sandefur and Subramanian say.