We are now faced with the stiff challenge of ensuring swift access to affordable vaccines and medicines for prevention of the pandemic and treatment of COVID patients, besides adequate provision of diagnostic kits, medical masks, personal protective equipment, oxygen concentrators/cylinders and ventilators.
Currently, there is a wide mismatch of demand for and supply of vaccines in the country. Acute shortage of vaccines has put the lives of our people including the doctors, health service providers and other essential workers at serious risk and has exacerbated the crisis. In view of the spiraling tally of COVID-positive cases and rising number of fatalities, it is critical to augment the availability of vaccines in the entire country with a war footing alacrity.
The need of the hour is to encourage, support and provide incentives for rapid ramping up of production capacities, through using all possible means or routes available to us.
FICCI is encouraged by the US support for the ‘TRIPS waiver’ proposal, first advocated by India and South Africa as one vital tool to address the concerns on availability of COVID-19 vaccines. We are confident, if accepted in the WTO and implemented, the temporary waiver would go a long way to enable scaling up of manufacturing and ensuring timely availability of affordable COVID-19 vaccines and essential medical products.
While the Indian Government is currently working towards the multilateral solution, there are other proposals e.g. invoking ‘Compulsory Licenses’ to alleviate the shortage of vaccines.
FICCI recognizes that the country has the right to invoke Compulsory Licenses under relevant Sections of the Patents Act. However, it may not lead to ‘enhancing’ the manufacturing capacity in the near future. This is due to the fact that lack of availability of essential raw materials and inputs poses significant constraint to the quick expansion of production capacity of the COVID vaccines. Further, several regulatory and safety issues will have to be addressed, and this may take some time. Thus, additional permissions through compulsory licenses will not automatically lead to any immediate increase in manufacturing of vaccines.
The provision of Compulsory Licensing must be used cautiously and with utmost discretion. If not used judiciously, it may discourage innovator companies, which have heavily invested in R&D, and turn out to be counterproductive to the present situation.
Further, FICCI strongly believes that in the larger and long-term interest of the country and its citizens, India should not rush to do anything unilaterally that may undermine its present efforts to arrive at a “multilateral solution” on this issue. This approach will be more acceptable to the global business and larger community worldwide. Our efforts should be to find a ‘fine balance’ between effectively managing India’s present public health concerns on the one hand, amply demonstrating that India values and respects the global rules on IPR / TRIPS Agreement, on the other.
The immediate focus has to be on connecting with the ‘right’ global companies to facilitate ‘technology transfer’ and voluntary licenses to Indian companies that have the capacity and capability for mass-production of COVID vaccines. This will be a definite game-changer and help in creating a robust manufacturing ecosystem with scalability in the country. FICCI believes that the government has initiated steps in this direction, and we believe that these should be concluded soon.