Covid-19 roundup: Russia approves second vaccine, Putin says; Advocacy groups ask WTO to waive patent rights
Russia has approved a second Covid-19 vaccine, president Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday. Like its first, the country’s new vaccine did not undergo large-scale trials before approval.
Putin said that the vaccine comes from the Siberian biotech Vector State Virology and Biotechnology Center, also a former Soviet bioweapons research lab, according to the Wall Street Journal. The institution plans to begin a 40,000-patient trial soon.
So far, Russian health officials have not elaborated on the vaccine’s early trial results nor its approval process, per the Moscow Times. The vaccine uses peptide-based antigens to train the body’s immune system to fight the virus, the country’s patent office previously said. Deputy prime minister Tatyana Golikova added during the announcement that a third Russian vaccine could come sometime in December.
Russia became the first country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine in August with its Sputnik V program, but drew heavy criticism from scientists in other countries after Russia granted the approval without a Phase III trial. The original announcement, as well as Russia’s offer to collaborate on future trials, drew particular scorn in the US with one official saying at the time, “There’s no way in hell the US tries this on monkeys, let alone people.”
The country has since released some data from early clinical trials from the shot, but none of the studies so far have been deemed sufficient to support authorization elsewhere. Moscow has since reached deals with Brazil, India and Mexico to sell doses of Sputnik V.
Nearly 400 advocacy groups ask WTO to waive Covid-related patent rights
A coalition of advocacy groups across the globe banded together Wednesday to ask the World Trade Organization to waive some patent rights for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments to allow easier access for developing countries.
About 400 groups signed on to the letter in support of a proposal from India and South Africa earlier this month. The waiver would lift some rules for patents, industrial designs, copyrights, and protection of trade secrets in order to ensure a “global solution” to the pandemic. The WTO is meeting this week.
Wednesday’s letter expresses concern that some of the richest countries have entered into secretive pacts with pharmaceutical companies that have prevented less wealthy nations from seeing meaningful access to Covid-19 treatments. The organizations specifically point to the worldwide shortage of Gilead’s remdesivir, which they note was developed with some public funds, as a result from places like the US and UK buying up most of the supply.
They also wrote that while AstraZeneca has pledged to produce its vaccine candidate at cost during the pandemic, the company has the ability to unilaterally declare the pandemic over and start generating a profit.
The letter reads, in part:
These restrictive business strategies have directly translated into exorbitant pricing and profiteering. With entire health systems already overwhelmed by COVID-19 and with governments facing a looming economic crisis, the health budgets of many countries simply cannot sustain highly priced COVID-19 medical products. These realities will also hinder production by any competent manufacturer and impede the full freedom to collaborate, in developing, producing, importing and exporting the needed medical products.
At the center of the dispute is a WTO agreement known as the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS. Going into effect originally in 1995, TRIPS was amended in 2001 to allow some patent rights to be suspended in the name of public health by way of manufacturing lower-cost generics.
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