China has lent its voice to the growing call for the temporary waiving of intellectual property (IP) rights for all Covid-19 vaccines. A groundswell of mostly developing nations have implored vaccine makers and major global players to relinquish IP rights for the life-saving vaccines and therapeutics.
Calls to waive IP rights began in October 2020, when South Africa and India proposed the waiver of certain provisions in the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Earlier this month US President, Joe Biden, said the US would back the proposal to waiver IP rights and let developing nations manufacture vaccines and therapeutics during the pandemic, after more than 100 top lawmakers urged him to do so.
Spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, said China was “fully supportive” of the temporary IP waiver, stating Beijing would do everything it could to provide equitable access to vaccine technologies. Beijing also pledged to donate 10 million vaccines to COVAX, the global vaccine distribution campaign backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
China has been an active participant in vaccine diplomacy since early 2020, providing vaccine assistance to more than 80 countries and, according to an Associated Press tally in May, has pledged nearly a half-billion doses to 45 countries.
Zhao also said that China was currently collaborating with 10 developing countries to transfer key technologies, resources and expertise that would advance vaccine output in those nations. Egypt will begin production of the Chinese-developed Sinovac vaccine in June, according to Time.
Wu Peng, an official with China’s Foreign Ministry, said that Africa could not solely rely on aid and that supporting local vaccine production was important.
While many have urged the waiver of IP rights, some experts believe Africa simply does not have the manufacturing capacity to fulfill the demand for vaccines.
University of Cape Town professor of organic chemistry and founder of the integrated drug discovery and development centre (H3D), Kelly Chibale, said even if IP rights were immediately waived, Africa did not have the infrastructure, expertise and knowledge to facilitate a fast rollout on the continent.
Currently, only 10 manufacturers had the capacity to produce at scale and those were based in a handful of countries – South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal, said Chibale.
The waiver on vaccines was welcomed by South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, and Trade, Industry and Competition Minister, Ebrahim Patel, both saying that equitable and inclusive solutions would be life-saving.