A year ago, I asked if intellectual property rights (IPRs) could be part of the COVID-19 solution, rather than the problem. I had assumed that a pandemic would change the entrenched positions of various stakeholders on IPRs.
However, a year later, we still do not have consensus on a TRIPS waiver for essential drugs, vaccines and COVID-19 diagnostic test kits. With a highly contagious variant of Omicron on the loose, some countries have organized booster injections while others are struggling to reach the first injection for all citizens. Thus, 2022 will remain a year of inequalities in access to healthcare.
As of January 3, India had 1,700 cases of the Omicron variant, of which 639 had recovered, according to data from the Ministry of Health. While the severity of the Omicron cases appears low, at this time we cannot afford to let our guard down.
Indian health officials have focused on covering as many citizens as part of the existing vaccination campaign, rather than diverting resources to launch a booster campaign. According to ministry data, 90 percent of the country’s adult population has been covered with at least one dose and 62 percent of the adult population has been covered with both doses.
This position was validated by the WHO declaration of 22 December, that the introduction of booster doses should be “firmly evidence-based and targeted at the population groups most at risk of serious disease and those necessary to protect the health system “. India’s recall strategy, as planned, followed these lines, expanding the vaccination campaign to children in the 15-18 age bracket (from January 3) and prioritizing injections. precautionary / reminder for healthcare and front-line staff, and the population over 60 with co-morbidities (from January 10).
Political decisions are like seeds; they need time to deliver a crop. They need to be fed, and it could be years before they bear fruit. Do we have the luxury of waiting? Unfortunately, we have no choice.
Take the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) program, where 150 billion rupees will be distributed over six years (FY23-FY28) to incentivize the 55 selected pharmaceutical companies to invest in crucial manufacturing capacity. Programs like the PLI program are part of the government’s Atmanirbharta campaign, aimed at empowering India for key drugs and their ingredients.
But what can be done to ensure that India today has enough vaccines for our citizens?
An October 2021 WTO report on COVID-19 vaccine production and vaccine input tariffs, showed that among the top 27 vaccine-manufacturing economies, India was one of three nations , which have sensitive / critical ‘bottlenecks’ at different levels in the 13 products. vaccine input groups. The report defines a choke point as a group of products with a tariff of at least five percent.
This means that the vaccine manufacturing supply chain in India is still highly vulnerable to disruption due to pricing and logistics. Vaccine manufacturers will need to plan the supply of vaccine inputs months in advance to meet the country’s projected needs. Yet without further government orders, a major vaccine company has warned it is cutting production of its COVID-19 vaccine.
To be fair, central government analysis shows states have enough doses at the moment. The rapid deployment of these doses before their expiry date is now a central concern.
The government also appears to be waiting for the next batch of vaccines being tested to submit data for approval, as most agree that the boosters will have to be vaccines using a different platform technology than those used so far in the industry. vaccination campaign. Given that other countries have already reserved supplies for their recall campaigns, it makes sense that India will look to locally developed vaccines for its recall strategy, as time, cost and logistics are factors. crucial. An Aatmanirbhar recall strategy will save lives. As a bonus, it will also boost the long-term development programs of local biopharmaceutical companies.
However, we will need more than vaccines to fight this virus. Many citizens did not come forward for their second injection, including those in urban areas where vaccines are plentiful. Many others see the pandemic as an increased health risk, an opportunity for businesses to profit, regardless of the fact that, according to WHO data, the global COVID-19 toll this year (as of December 29 ) was 5,411,759 people. That toll exceeded last year’s deaths from HIV / AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. With these sobering numbers and predictions that India’s third wave could peak in February 2022, it promises to be another year for learning to live with COVID-19.