Limits to vaccine diplomacy; TRIPS Waiver discussions deadlocked

Newsletter Edition #33 [The Weekly Primer]

Hi,

Last week Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO DG, politely called out countries engaging in vaccine diplomacy. He asked countries to route their donations through the COVAX Facility so that overall doses secured under the international mechanism can be balanced with the needs across the world.

It clearly applies to all countries including those trying to mend fences in their own neighborhoods.

It is seldom straight-forward to talk plainly to donor governments, but these consistent and determined pleas by WHO asking rich countries not to impede global vaccines distribution to fight the pandemic, is nevertheless significant. It is hard to say if it will make any tangible difference that could alter this vaccine-charity complex during this pandemic.

We believe vaccine diplomacy will likely result in a new strand of global health diplomacy with curious consequences.

We hope you enjoy reading this curated edition. Some of you have told us that you find this useful. If not, let us know your thoughts and how we can improve upon this. Just hit reply to this mail. As you will notice, we continue to adapt and tinker the format as we go along.

This week, Geneva Health Files is honored to be a part of a discussion organized by the British Medical Journal: “#CovidUnknowns: Vaccines”. Check it out on Thursday 25th.

Finally, we are stepping into an exciting phase where we kick off our transition into going paid. We will communicate on this important change to you tomorrow in a separate communication. More on this very soon!

Cheers,

Priti

Feel free to write to us: patnaik.reporting@gmail.com or genevahealthfiles@protonmail.com; Follow us on Twitter: @filesgeneva

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I. POLICY UPDATES

  • WTO TRIPS COUNCIL FORMAL MEETING

    Countries continued to remain deadlocked in their positions on the discussions on the TRIPS Waiver proposal at a formal meeting of the TRIPS Council today at the WTO.

    The proposal spearheaded by South Africa and India, now has the following co-sponsors: Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique, Pakistan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, the African Group and the LDC Group.

    The following countries lent support to the proposal from the floor today: Jamaica on behalf of the ACP Group (62 members) Afghanistan, Argentina, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Honduras, Cuba, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Indonesia, Tunisia, Mali and Mauritius.

    In a lengthy discussion, 27 delegations to the floor, sources said. The Holy See also presented a statement supporting the waiver proposal.

    Chile, China and Colombia, in addition to some developed countries stressed on the need for more evidence-based discussions in the TRIPS Council on the waiver proposal.

    At the meeting South Africa said:

    “We cannot put the virus back in the bottle, we just cannot go back to the old normal, said South Africa, that shared some statistics: according to available data, the US, the UK and the EU account for about 30% of over 200 million vaccines administered globally, and countries opposing the IP waiver proposal account for 60% of the globally administered COVID-19 vaccines. Reportedly, just 10 countries have administered 75% of all COVID-19 vaccines and more than 113 countries have not yet received a single dose.”

    USA, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Singapore, Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom continued to oppose the proposal.

    Some countries reportedly cited a recent statement by Adar Poonawalla, chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, where he told The Guardian that there is sufficient vaccine manufacture capacity in the world and that scaling up is the main issue. They used this to contest the argument that vaccine developers have withheld licensing rights to manufacturers. This shows that IP has not been a barrier so far - opposing countries reasoned, sources familiar with the discussions said.

    Members agreed to present an oral status to the General Council meeting on 1-2 March to continue discussion on this issue.

    The consensus language of the oral status report reads as follows:

    "At the meeting of the TRIPS Council on 15-16 October 2020, India and South Africa introduced document IP/C/W/669, requesting a waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19, which had been circulated on 2 October 2020 and has since been co-sponsored by the delegations of Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique, Pakistan, Bolivia, Venezuela, Mongolia, Zimbabwe, Egypt, the African Group and the LDC Group. The Council continued its discussions under that agenda item at informal meetings on 20 November and 3 December, as well as at its resumed meeting on 10 December 2020. Following the status report to the General Council on 16-17 December 2020, the Council continued its consideration of the waiver request at informal meetings on 19 January and 4 February 2021, and at its formal meeting on 23 February 2021.

    At those meetings, delegations also exchanged views, asked questions, sought clarifications and provided replies, clarifications, and information, including through documents IP/C/W/670IP/C/W/671IP/C/W/672IP/C/W/673 and IP/C/W/674, on the waiver request but could not reach consensus, including on whether it is appropriate to move to text-based negotiations. Delegations indicated a need for further discussions on the waiver request and views exchanged by delegations.

    This means that the TRIPS Council has not yet completed its consideration of the waiver request. The TRIPS Council will therefore continue its consideration of the waiver request and report back to the General Council as stipulated in Article IX:3 of the Marrakesh Agreement."

  • WHO: No-fault compensation programme for COVID-19 vaccines

WHO and Gavi have launched a vaccine injury compensation mechanism open to “eligible individuals in AMC-eligible countries and economies a fast, fair, robust and transparent process to receive compensation for rare but serious adverse events associated with COVAX-distributed vaccines until 30 June 2022.”

In a press statement, WHO has said that it has signed an agreement with Chubb Limited through ESIS Inc., a Chubb company, for the administration of a no-fault compensation programme. The COVAX no-fault compensation programme will be operationalized (www.covaxclaims.com) by 31 March 2021.

Two interesting things to note, the date until which claims will be allowed. And the financing of this mechanism.

The programme is financed initially through Gavi COVAX AMC donor funding, calculated as a levy charged on all doses of COVID-19 vaccines distributed through the COVAX Facility to the AMC eligible economies until 30 June 2022.”

WHO, Gavi

Liabilities and indemnifications issues are hugely important. See related story that we discuss below. Also check out our comprehensive analysis on the same, from a few weeks ago.

Image credit: Photo by Matthias Groeneveld from Pexels


II. WHAT WE FOUND INTERESTING

NEWS:

  • ‘Held to ransom’: Pfizer demands governments gamble with state assets to secure vaccine deal: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

    Officials from Argentina and the other Latin American country, which cannot be named as it has signed a confidentiality agreement with Pfizer, said the company’s negotiators demanded additional indemnity against any civil claims citizens might file if they experienced adverse effects after being inoculated. In Argentina and Brazil, Pfizer asked for sovereign assets to be put up as collateral for any future legal costs.

    One official who was present in the unnamed country’s negotiations described Pfizer’s demands as “high-level bullying” and said the government felt like it was being “held to ransom” in order to access life-saving vaccines.

    Reporting by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

  • With scarce funding for ACT-A, 'everything moves slower': WHO's Bruce Aylward: Devex

    A telling interview that gives a glimpse inside the COVAX Facility, do read

    Without sufficient funding, “we cannot close the deals on the vaccines that we have, or if we do close the deals and we lock in the deal, we have to buy it ...  and that requires a big cash flow,” Aylward said.

  • Joint statement of G7 Leaders | 19 February 2021

    We will work with the WHO, G20 and others, especially through the Global Health Summit in Rome, to bolster global health and health security architecture for pandemic preparedness, including through health financing and rapid response mechanisms, by strengthening the “One Health” approach and Universal Health Coverage, and exploring the potential value of a global health treaty.

  • Vaccine diplomacy: west falling behind in race for influence: The Guardian

    In a century likely to see several more pandemics, Covid-19 vaccines are providing a foothold for countries’ wider health industries. Jordan, a close US ally in the Middle East, has for decades sourced most of its routine vaccines from US companies. But with Sinopharm’s formulation forming the backbone of its Covid-19 vaccination programme, health experts in Jordan say they are having a fresh look at Chinese medical products across the board.

    The Guardian

  • The 27-Year-Old Who Became a Covid-19 Data Superstar: Bloomberg Businessweek

    The forecasting model that Gu built was, in some ways, simple. He had first considered examining the relationship among Covid tests, hospitalizations, and other factors but found that such data was being reported inconsistently by states and the federal government. The most reliable figures appeared to be the daily death counts. “Other models used more data sources, but I decided to rely on past deaths to predict future deaths,” Gu says. “Having that as the only input helped filter the signal from the noise.”

    Bloomberg Businessweek

  • Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is the new WTO chief, but let’s not get carried away: Trade Beta Blog

    The WTO is not in good shape, but what can the WTO director-general do? Legally, she is the head of the Secretariat. The Secretariat’s job is secretarial, to assist the work of the members. And it’s the members who are the WTO. They are the WTO’s decision-makers. That makes the director-general the servant of the members.

    Real life is more nuanced than that. WTO members have chosen a high-powered director-general, a former finance minister, senior executive of the World Bank and now chair of GAVI, the vaccine alliance that is at the centre of global efforts on COVID-19 vaccines.

    That means they are expecting her to have clout, to be an influential mediator in their work, huddling with groups of ambassadors and sometimes ministers in the informal consultations that can move WTO work forward.

    Peter Ungphakorn: Trade Beta Blog

FROM THE JOURNALS / REPORTS:

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III. WHAT WE ARE WATCHING:

  • WHO: Member States Virtual Informal Consultation on Strengthening WHO Preparedness for and Response to Health Emergencies (organized by the European Union): March 4, 2021

  • WTO General Council Meeting: March 1-2, 2021


IV. THE WEEK IN TWEETS

What are the underlying motivations for this? We are keen to know:

World Bank communication has a problem:

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