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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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?

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