Canada Still Won't Commit To Supporting A Pandemic Patent Waiver

from the inexcusable dept

Few things illustrate the broken state of our global intellectual property system better than the fact that, well over a year into this devastating pandemic and in the face of a strong IP waiver push by some of the hardest hit countries, patents are still holding back the production of life-saving vaccines. And of all the countries opposing a waiver at the WTO (or withholding support for it, which is functionally the same thing), Canada might be the most frustrating.

Canada is the biggest hoarder of vaccine pre-orders, having secured enough to vaccinate the population five times over. Despite this, it has constantly run into supply problems and lagged behind comparable countries when it comes to administering the vaccines on a per capita basis. In response to criticism of its hoarding, the government continues to focus on its plans to donate all surplus doses to the COVAX vaccine sharing program — but these promises were somewhat more convincing before Canada became the only G7 country to withdraw doses from COVAX. Despite all this, and despite pressure from experts who explain how vaccine hoarding will prolong the pandemic for everyone, the country has continually refused to voice its support for a TRIPS patent waiver at the WTO.

Last week, the US finally said that it would support a waiver. This position has issues — there’s no commitment to a specific proposal, just to negotiating a new one, so the devil is very much in the details — but the top-line promise of support for the general concept is meaningful and welcome. Some suspected that Canada might finally follow suit with, at least, a similarly open-to-interpretation promise — but apparently the government can’t even go that far, and has stated that it’s still “weighing support”:

Following a meeting with his G7 counterparts, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said discussion on whether to lift patents, as was done in the AIDS crisis, was ?very active? but said Canada is still weighing the options.

?Canada?s position is that we need to obtain more vaccines, we need to all put more money into the COVAX program, and by the way Canada is the fourth largest contributor to the COVAX program, and we need to discuss with manufactures whether they?re prepared to make licensing arrangements to allow greater production of the vaccine,? he said in an interview on CTV News Channel?s Power Play.

This position is baffling and infuriating. Canada has already missed its chance to be a leader in the call for a truly cooperative global vaccine production strategy, and now it’s missing its opportunity to at least be an early supporter among high-income countries. Meanwhile, the country’s struggling rollout has convinced many citizens that its procurement has been too slow despite being the world’s biggest hoarder of orders. As other countries like India face devastation, the ruling Canadian Liberal party’s opposition (especially Conservative provincial premiers, who are among the most responsible for the failed rollout) are taking the opportunity to shift blame and bring dangerous isolationist dog whistles into the mainstream by claiming the country’s only real problem is poor border controls. Canada is also struggling to fund development of a homegrown vaccine, and build out domestic manufacturing capacity that was sorely lacking when the pandemic hit. All of this is ample reason for Canada to support an IP waiver that would increase global supply, stem the spread of COVID around the world and especially in hard-hit places like India that traditionally have lots of people traveling to the country, and maybe even accelerate domestic vaccine production. Instead, Canada is hedging its bets and letting its struggling pandemic response become a partisan football in a political debate laced with misinformation and toxic nationalism while millions of Canadians — and billions around the world — still wait for their chance to get vaccinated.

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Comments on “Canada Still Won't Commit To Supporting A Pandemic Patent Waiver”

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42 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

As an American who loves Canada,

this is indeed frustrating. One could make the argument that Joe Biden is even more compromised than Justin Trudeau is vis-à-vis pharmaceuticals, but that didn’t stop him from having political courage to support a TRIPS waiver. What Justin is doing is making me fear that the inevitable Tory PM who will replace Trudeau will be Canada’s Trump.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: As an American who loves Canada,

Very much this. The liberals are shooting themselves in the foot here by bolstering Tory talking points while failing to support constituent and international interests. Last time around, the only thing that kept the Liberals in power was people’s knowledge that the Conservatives would be even worse, especially with Trump in the White House. Next time the Liberals need some populist wins to point to to avoid all non-corporate interests abandoning them for the lesser of two evils.

Or the NDP may get their act together and work with the BQ (hah) to overthrow the Liberal/Conservative stranglehold on government. But likely the Green party will sap some of those efforts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: As an American who loves Canada,

Things can change, but the next government is likely not going to be Tory. The reason is Ontario, which is apparently getting more than a little fed up with Doug Ford, who has been late to the Covid party at each play and can’t seem to decide whether to listen to the scientific advice or just let the pandemic rip and hope for the best.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Some Canuck says:

Re: 'Mine, mine!'

Canada had to hedge its bets and pre-order many doses from many suppliers. Canada has no vaccine manufacturing capability. No one knew which vaccines would get approved and when.

On paper it looks like Canada is hording, but in reality they are using every vaccine they actually receive and will be donating the surplus orders to other countries.

Canada population is 37.6 million. Canada has received a total of 20 million vaccine doses to date. It has administered 17.2 million of those. The 2.8 million or so doses are likely in transport across the country or preparing to be administered. Canada is a VERY big place, a lot of which is very remote, making logistics a nightmare.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Mine, mine!'

Canada had to hedge its bets and pre-order many doses from many suppliers.

Yep – it’s a good example of why vaccine distribution based on individually negotiated bilateral deals between countries and private companies with patent monopolies is a terrible, inequitable way of dealing with a global pandemic.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Sometimes you wish they’d just do the simple solution…

Elected officials are last in line.
Suddenly when they have to worry about themselves, they magically discover that whole humanitarian thing.

All of the politics and backroom deals just fade away when they can not have a shot until everyone in their country is vaccinated.
Given the limitations on production, cause whats wrong with just depending on other countries to make our things, they would personally deliver the the IP to all factories globally to make sure that there was plenty of vaccine for everyone and then some.

I personally am really rather irritated that officials who downplayed or ignored the pandemic were able to get shots before most citizens.
Oh Congress has the run the nation!!
Really? They’ve done fuck all for the last 4 years except benefit the wealthy and held the rest of us hostage.

If we forced them to be like us little people, you’d see how fast things would improve.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Oh, I don’t know. He is known as Rob’s older, smarter brother, but that is a very, very, low bar. I don’t think Doug is all that smart – or rather I don’t think he qualifies as smart at all. He has swung between trying to ignore a looming problem to keep "the economy" lively and clamping down, too little, too late and then extending restrictions again and again as the inefficacy of delayed actions becomes blatantly obvious to all. And the actions he takes are frequently out of step with current scientific knowledge, as if he is afraid to admit that we have learnt more about the virus in the interim.

So, trying? Yeah, quite possibly. Effective? Not even remotely.

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

And I think you’re giving Ford too much intellectual credit. If he is trying to protect his own political future, he’s doing a terrible job of it – which is just about right, actually, he isn’t exactly an Einsten. He is the brightest of the Ford brothers, but that’s kind of like being the chastest hooker in a brothel.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I’m not saying the man’s a genius. But if you look at his term so far – both before and during the pandemic – he has proven quite capable at accomplishing many aspects of his party’s traditional agenda, e.g. on environmental conservation, development rules, rental property rules, and more. He and his government only seem to become "incompetent" when it comes to public health and pandemic relief measures that might place some burden on big businesses and big landowners while benefiting the Ontario public at large.

Dan Z says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Lots of finger pointing…
When all this started, Tam said the risk to Canadians was LOW

Who’s in control of the Borders? Appointing medical advisors?
The Federal Government -Justine the Drama Teacher!
Still hasn’t done anything about it!
Guess it must have got here by E-Mail

But everyone in Toronto thinks Today its all Doug’s fault

Now back to subject of patents…that must be Doug’s fault too!

Anonymous Coward says:

So yeah, speaking of patent waivers…
We have the two pioneers of mRNA therapy and vaccine applications up for the Nobel. Work which was mostly done at the University of Pennsylvania. Which sold patent rights to someone who later sold them to BioNTech and Moderna. Katalin Kariko is now a deputy VP at BioNTech, which worked with Pfizer on their Covid vaccine.

While interesting how long they fought to get mRNA studies funded, and how long it took for anyone to recognize how useful mRNA (with the base uracil replaced by pseudouracil) vaccines, and yes a Nobel prize would be nice for their work since it is super-relevant now,
What the Actual Fuck, University of Pennsylvania, BioNTech, and friends?

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Anonymous Coward says:

The issue with waiving vaccine patents is it creates a free-for-all in the manufacturing of the vaccine. That sounds great but it isn’t, because not all manufacturers are as capable, as efficient, or adhere to the same level of quality control and safety procedures. That risks undermining trust in vaccine efficacy and safety. Secondly, there’s a shortage of some ingredients/materials needed to make the vaccine and it’s not a good idea to divert them away from the most capable manufactures, towards less capable ones. As an alternative, Covid-19 vaccine patent holders should grant free licenses to others, that way other countries can manufacture the vaccine freely, but there’s still some control over who those manufacturers are.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m not interested in leaving control of quality and safety up to private pharma giants negotiating confidential contracts – that’s something that should be under democratic control. Nor do I believe the multibillion dollar companies that stand to profit massively from these patents when they say "we need them to protect your safety, that’s all, we swear!" (while simultaneously talking to their investors about how much they plan to cash in over the years to come)

And the "undermining trust" argument doesn’t mean much to the countries that are suffering from huge vaccine shortages and won’t see meaningful vaccination levels for years.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

There’s a global shortage of some vaccine materials; spreading them around too thinly risks slowing the global supply of vaccines, not increasing the supply. Vaccine supply issues aren’t caused by patents, so waiving them won’t resolve those issues, it will just exacerbate them.

Also AstraZeneca aren’t making a profit on their vaccine.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

There’s a global shortage of some vaccine materials

Let’s tackle that in a cooperative global fashion with the sole goal of equitably saving as many lives as possible and ending the pandemic, globally, as quickly as possible. Let’s remove patent monopolies for private pharma companies from the equation entirely.

Vaccine supply issues aren’t caused by patents

That’s what patent-holders claim, yes. Experts who don’t have a vested interest in defending patents tend to disagree.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Great, then when the shortages are resolved, the vaccine supply issues will be alleviated.

The pandemic is being used by those who object even to the idea of pharmaceutical patents to pursue their ultimate goal of killing them. But none of the proposed alternatives like prizes or direct government funding will sufficiently replace the benefits of patents. Without them the cycle of using revenue from previous medications to fund new ones will effectively end.

I’m all for strict regulations of pharmaceutical patents but ending them is short-sighted.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The pandemic is being used by those who object even to the idea of pharmaceutical patents to pursue their ultimate goal of killing them. But none of the proposed alternatives like prizes or direct government funding will sufficiently replace the benefits of patents. Without them the cycle of using revenue from previous medications to fund new ones will effectively end.

You say this without even an iota of evidence.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Without them the cycle of using revenue from previous medications to fund new ones will effectively end.

So the money they make from selling existing medicine will suddenly up and vanish? Do people just not buy anything without the sort of IP protection you pro-IP folks demand? Same thing happened when the Feds declared that supermarkets were an IP-intensive industry. Like you guys think that if patents or copyright disappeared tomorrow, society would just sit with their thumbs in their asses and not do anything.

Great, then when the shortages are resolved, the vaccine supply issues will be alleviated.

And how do you propose these shortages get resolved when IP is cited as an excuse to make sure that these shortages are managed on the terms of those with the most resources and clout to toss around?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It would be nice if this was just prompted by altruism and common sense. But no…the reason the US is releasing vaccine patents is the same as why Russia and China are suddenly in the humanitarian business of giving away boatload of vaccine doses. It’s soft power. The US is playing catchup with it’s near peers in foreign politics.

Canada doesn’t have a dog in this fight and thus falls on the international default when it comes to Imaginary Property – clinging to it with a Dead Man’s grip.

As Beau of the fifth column posits it;

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTE8ldxIXE0

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

There’s a global shortage of some vaccine materials; spreading them around too thinly risks slowing the global supply of vaccines, not increasing the supply. Vaccine supply issues aren’t caused by patents, so waiving them won’t resolve those issues, it will just exacerbate them.

Also AstraZeneca aren’t making a profit on their vaccine.

Some canuck says:

Hindsight 20/20

Canada has no vaccine manufacturing sector. It’s completely reliant on other countries to supply the vaccine. Canada hedged its bets by pre-ordering with multiple suppliers in multiple countries to try to secure doses for Canadians. No one knew at the time which vaccines would get approval and when. Then when we finally got some approved, there were production shortages. Then the US, UK, and Europe started restricting exports of vaccines leading to more supply issues. Canada was trying to get doses from anywhere it could just to try to vaccinate it’s population.

Yes, it was not the best move to take from the COVAX program, but Canada was desperate for vaccines. There were surging infection and deaths and the vaccine supply was limited by the production issues and export restrictions. The thing is they borrowed from the program in the short term and will more than make up for it in the long term.

As for the patent waivers, I’m mixed on that. Sure, I’d like to say wave them and let everyone start making them. But my concerns would be: Will there be shortages on equipment and raw materials needed to make vaccines causing strain on the current established production lines? What about skilled labour needed to make them? Will the pharma companies spend the money to try to rush vaccine developments for future pandemics if they are just going to have to hand over their patents (profit) once the research is done?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Hindsight 20/20

Will the pharma companies spend the money to try to rush vaccine developments for future pandemics if they are just going to have to hand over their patents (profit) once the research is done?

So you’re saying pharma companies will hold everyone on the globe hostage, and are willing to stop pursuing life-saving medicines and let millions die if they aren’t promised monopoly profits?

Okay… Sounds like an excellent argument for ending the privatization of medical research and pharmaceuticals entirely, and making it a matter of public concern, especially since a great deal of the primary research is publicly funded to begin with. Obviously the situation you describe is extremely dangerous (and evil) and cannot be allowed to continue.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Hindsight 20/20

It just doesn’t seem fair to me, but I guess that’s not the point when talking about Big Pharma/Tech/Banks.

Pfizer took all the risks. They financed research, development, trials, government paperwork, and manufacturing upgrades all to make a product they hoped they could sell. Would they have been reimbursed if their vaccine turned out to be ineffective?

This goes for other companies too. Johnson and Johnson sort of fumbled their way through this with multiple missteps. Will the government reimburse them? How about the other vaccines still in trials? They may not even be needed at this rate. Do they get reimbursed?

The governments of the world could have taken they risks, dumped money into research then given the blueprints to the vaccine for everyone to use. But instead they forced all the risks onto a private company then swoop in to try to gain all the rewards without paying for it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Hindsight 20/20

It just doesn’t seem fair to me

Does it seem fair to you that rich countries representing a small fraction of the world’s population have also acquired and administered the majority of the world’s vaccines, while several countries have still not received a single dose and many more will not see meaningful vaccination levels until 2022 or even 2023?

Please, speak to that issue before you start shedding tears about what’s fair to multibillion dollar pharma giants.

The governments of the world could have taken they risks, dumped money into research then given the blueprints to the vaccine for everyone to use. But instead they forced all the risks onto a private company then swoop in to try to gain all the rewards without paying for it.

You describe it as if this was a sudden decision. The system of globally-enforced private pharma patents has been steadily developing for a couple decades, largely pushed by the pharma companies themselves. COVID is laying bare the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into – and no, getting out of it won’t be easy, but now is the time to start.

And you are also ignoring the fact that governments have poured lots of money into research. Then they sell the results to a private pharma company for a pittance, and that company goes on to make millions. That’s been going on since long before COVID. And of course there is the case of the Oxford vaccine – the development of which was around 97% publicly funded – which was supposed to be released openly until Bill Gates and others stepped in and pressured them into partnering exclusively with AstraZeneca.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Hindsight 20/20

No. Pharma does not take "all the risks" (what risks?), and regularly makes use of publicly-funded (or otherwise not funded by pharma) research and data, then locks up not only the end product, but also previously publicly available information and data resulting from their trials. This is all bullshit and allowing it is an unconscionable and unfair subsidy to these companies. Further, they have an avenue to extend patents unfairly by otherwise pointlessly tweaking a formula or process, which somehow keeps the original process locked up.

Seriously, for real?

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