Africa, WHO laud US backing of Covid vaccine patent waiver

The African Union has welcomed the proposal to waive patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines by the US while urging other countries to back the idea to help eliminate the pandemic.

Backing the idea during a virtual briefing on Thursday, May 6, the Director-General for Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention, John Nkengasong said US move is “a remarkable expression of leadership,” adding that “My message is an appeal to the international community, to our partners, to please be on the right side of history because history will remember this.”

By supporting the proposal, the US joined an effort to increase global supply and access to the life-saving Covid-19 shots as the gap between rich and poor nations widens – a debate that EU and China have indicated a willingness to take part in but one that needs an agreement at the World Trade Organization.

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In a separate briefing, the World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said, “the possibility of making Covid-19 vaccines in Africa is “a very important part of the solution. However, there are other things needed to expand and quickly diversify production such as readily available ingredients, suitable manufacturers and adequate regulation.”

Ms Moeti added that vaccine production in Africa would avert the rising inequality currently being experienced as the US and many European countries expanding their campaigns to younger age groups, while many African countries struggle to vaccinate millions in the most vulnerable groups.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus has lauded the commitment by the US, describing it as a bold move to end the pandemic as quickly as possible.

“This is a monumental moment in the fight against Covid-19. The commitment by the President of the US Joe Biden and Ambassador Katherine Tai, the US Trade Representative, to support the waiver of IP protections on vaccines is a powerful example of American leadership to address global health challenges,” said Dr Tedros.

“I commend the US on its historic decision for vaccine equity and prioritizing the well-being of all people everywhere at a critical time. Now let’s all move together swiftly, in solidarity, building on the ingenuity and commitment of scientists who produced life-saving Covid-19 vaccines.”

Ambassador Tai said, “these extraordinary times and circumstances call for extraordinary measures. The US supports the waiver of intellectual property protections on Covid-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and we’ll actively participate in the negotiations to make that happen.”

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Many developing countries have argued that rules requiring countries to protect patents and other forms of intellectual property are an obstacle to the ramping up vaccine production.

If approved, supporters say, the waiver would give way to increased production of vaccines, offering more doses to the less wealthy countries.

However, on Thursday, May 6, Germany, the EU’s biggest economic power and home to a major pharmaceutical sector, including BioNTech which developed one of the most widely-used coronavirus jabs, has strongly opposed the idea, saying it will have “significant implications for vaccine production as a whole”.

“The limiting factors in the production of vaccines are the production capacities and the high-quality standards and not patents,” it said, adding that pharmaceutical companies were already working with partners to ramp up manufacturing.

According to WHO statistics, as of May 4, over 1.1 billion Covid doses have been administered globally.

In Kenya, more than 906,000 people have so far been inoculated against Covid-19 virus, out of which, 278,642 are aged 58 years and above, health workers account for 159,982, Teachers 141,571, security officers 76,077 while 249,973 belong to the others category.

At the same time, the total number of confirmed Covid-19 positive cases in the country now stands at 162,098 after another 705 people tested positive for the virus in the last 24 hours, a test done from a sample size of 8,853, posting eight per cent positivity rate.

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