Vaccines & Virus Concerns at WHO Board; TRIPS Waiver talks at WTO

Newsletter Edition #23 [The Weekly Primer]


WHO’s board meeting began this week amid appeals for addressing vaccines shortages and stressing on the independence in the SARS-CoV-2 origins investigations. It promises to be a significant event with both the WHO Director-General and member states not mincing words. (Like others, we are live-tweeting from the event. Follow @filesgeneva on Twitter)

In this edition, we bring you some considered curation, so that you are on top of the global health news that matter. Note that the TRIPS Council at WTO meets for an informal discussion on the waiver proposal today.

The edition on Tuesdays has now been christened as The Weekly Primer from Geneva Health Files focusing on news and curation.

Watch out for our analysis, later on Friday, on what the on-going proceedings at the Executive Board meeting tells us about the evolving nature of governance at WHO.

Also sharing a new paper, that I wrote for People’s Health Movement: COVID-19 Vaccine Governance: Sidelining multilateralism. It proved to be an important experience in clarifying my own thoughts on this complex field of global health governance. Read and let us know what you think. (See image below).

In case you missed it, you can catch up with a discussion on the reforms at WHO governing bodies. We were happy to be a part of this discussion. (Geneva Global Health Hub has shared the recording - Meeting passcode: xJDCbM&9).



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WHO’s Executive Board began its deliberations in a virtual format, on 18th January and will last until the 26th of January, discussing a variety of matters from strengthening work on health emergencies to addressing the big question on sustainable financing for the organization.

Going by Day 1 of the proceedings of the Executive Board meeting, there is palpable sense of frustration among countries about vaccine shortages for addressing COVID-19. What was also bemusing to note that those countries that had already rolled out vaccination campaigns were full of advice on how to roll-out vaccination campaigns, for the rest of world, which is still waiting for vaccines for the pandemic. (We share this image below from a new publication, that captures the mood at the EB - “Vaccine governance - Sidelining Multilateralism”)

The opening remarks of DG Tedros at the EB meeting, will be cited in the years to come. He cautioned about the world on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure, the price of which will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries.

Image credit: People’s Health Movement [COVID-19 Vaccine Governance: Sidelining multilateralism]

We bring you a quick glimpse on key documents of interest for this week.

(Do watch out for our analyses on the EB on Friday, 22nd January)

  • Technical Update from Dr Mike Ryan

    The update has a helpful description of the mutant variations of SARS-Cov-2 and WHO’s strategies in addressing these going forward.

  • Update on COVAX and the ACT Accelerator: Dr Bruce Aylward

    The state of play on COVAX. And COVAX’s reasoning on its approach to mRNA vaccines.

    Key update on indemnification issues around vaccines’ introduction. (Watch this space for more)

  • International Health Regulations

    Interim Progress Report Of The Review Committee On The Functioning Of The International Health Regulations (2005) During The COVID-19 Response

    “Many countries have been using the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness (PIP) Framework as a foundation for their COVID-19 response. While some areas of IHR core capacities have been improved under PIP, others have not. Although the health ministry is the responsible authority, effective preparedness and response measures require a whole-of-government approach. Response measures are often led by non-health ministries, with little consultation. Another challenge is that pandemic preparedness planning is generally not an integral part of public health system strengthening and primary health care.

    Influenza pandemic preparedness can help broaden the approach for respiratory illnesses preparedness. Disease-specific plans and other relevant plans, however, are often not integrated with national action plans for health security as part of a single platform for all activities related to the International Health Regulations (2005) and health security in the country.”

    (See our story on the politics of pathogens-sharing from last week)

    Also recommended reading:

    A recent emergency committee meeting from 15th, January 2021 (non-EB doc):

    Statement on the sixth meeting of the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic

    “The Committee recognized the challenges posed by some manufacturers’ delayed submission of vaccine data to WHO. These data delays impact WHO’s ability to provide emergency use listing which ultimately affect equitable vaccine access. The Committee strongly encourages manufacturers to provide data to WHO as rapidly as possible.”

    This was also highlighted by DG Tedros in his remarks at the opening of the EB.

    The committee also asks state parties to “Engage in technology transfer to accelerate global production and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines and ancillary supplies.”

  • The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response

    • The second progress report to the EB

      The panel has questioned China’s initial approach to imposing public health measures to curb the COVID-19 outbreak.

      “A close reading of the chronology of the earliest events in the emergence of COVID-19 also suggests to the Panel that there were lost opportunities to apply basic public health measures at the earliest opportunity. While still collecting information, the Panel is becoming more confident in its understanding of the early events in Wuhan, China, where the first presently known cluster of cases was identified setting in train the identification of SARS-CoV-2 as the cause….

      … What is clear to the Panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January”

      It also raises the question on why WHO did not declare the COVID-19 outbreak an international emergency until January 30, 2020. The report says “WHO has been underpowered to do the job expected of it.”

      It declares that “the global pandemic alert system is not fit for purpose.”

    • Meeting Report: Third Meeting of the Panel 16 - 17 December 2020 (non-EB doc)

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  • WTO TRIPS Council Informal Meeting: Discussions on the TRIPS Waiver proposal

    WTO members convene at a TRIPS Council informal meeting today to discuss the TRIPS waiver proposal.

    The proponents of the proposal have responded to extensive questions on the proposal from United States, the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia, Chile, and Mexico. These responses are gold running into 30 pages addressing a number of issues from TRIPS Article 31, to trade secrets among others.

    • Waiver From Certain Provisions Of The TRIPS Agreement For The Prevention, Containment And Treatment Of Covid-19 – Responses To Questions : January 15, 2021

      (Communication From The Plurinational State Of Bolivia, Eswatini, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Mongolia, Pakistan, South Africa, The Bolivarian Republic Of Venezuela And Zimbabwe)

    • Waiver From Certain Provisions Of The TRIPS Agreement For The Prevention, Containment And Treatment Of Covid-19 - Questions By Proponents: 15th January 2021

      (Communication From India, Mozambique, Pakistan And South Africa)

      Sample this:

      Question raised by Mozambique

      1. After years of discouraging WTO Members especially developing countries to take steps to improve their patent law so that compulsory licenses may be issued in the interest of public health, how does the European Union expect all WTO Members to be ready to use compulsory licenses should the need arise?

      Question from South Africa:

      Following on from President Ursula von der Leyen's State of the Union call for the establishment of an EU BARDA, the EU's IP action calls for the development of an "effective framework for march-in rights that should guarantee that publicly funded IP is available in case of critical shortages". Could the European Union please provide details on the design of these march-in rights?

      Also, check this out: MSF picks apart pharma industry’s arguments against the TRIPS waiver proposal. A must-read - Will history repeat itself?


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