POWELL, Ohio — At the second Global COVID-19 Summit on May 12, 2022, the United States announced a licensing agreement between the National Institutes of Health and WHO’s Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) and the U.N.-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) for the development of 11 COVID-19 technologies. The WHO and MPP will give sublicenses to manufacturers worldwide, allowing them to make generic versions of vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostic technologies. These 11 COVID-19 technology licenses have the potential to boost global recovery efforts amid the pandemic.
Global Health Care Inequality
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened health care inequality. Before the pandemic, about one-third (33%) of the global population did not have access to essential health services. While data on the pandemic’s impact on universal health coverage is not available at this time, “there are strong indications that as of the end of 2021, service coverage rates remain well below their pre-pandemic levels,” according to WHO.
In March 2022, of the 10 billion vaccine doses distributed globally, only around 1% went to low-income countries. Global access to the 11 COVID-19 technology licenses could potentially resolve issues such as inadequate vaccine access in low- and middle-income countries.
COVID-19 Technology Licenses
One of the most critical of the 11 technologies is the technology that stabilizes the spike protein. The spike protein is the part of the vaccine that induces the body’s immune response against the virus. The NIH’s specific protein configuration produces a stronger immune response against the virus than other configurations.
Additionally, manufacturers can use the licensing to produce rapid tests and antiviral treatments as technology to create these tools is now available. Several manufacturers have agreed to sell the generic version of the Paxlovid antiviral treatment for $25 or less to low- and middle-income countries.
WHO’s C-TAP “aims to boost global supply of vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for COVID-19 by facilitating the sharing of intellectual property, knowledge and data with quality-assured manufacturers that have capacity to scale up production.” Furthermore, NIH researchers frequently make scientific breakthroughs, which could benefit all countries during the pandemic in particular.
Additionally, according to a joint statement from the WHO and MPP, “In most circumstances, NIH will not collect royalties on sales of products licensed in 49 countries classified by the United Nations as Least Developed Countries.”
Additional COVID-19 Efforts
In addition to this technology announcement at the May 2022 Global COVID-19 summit, in September 2021, President Biden pledged to give out 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccination doses. So far, the U.S. has provided more than 500 million doses to 115 countries.
During his speech, Biden said countries worldwide must work together to end the current pandemic and prevent future pandemics. Biden stresses, “… now is the time for us to act — all of us — together” and highlights that the U.S. remains steadfast in its commitment to end the pandemic.
Implications for Global Poverty
Not only will these licenses help low- and middle-income countries fight the current pandemic but the licenses will also give these nations the necessary tools for future health emergencies, such as other pandemics.
Currently, the technology licenses will help save lives, decrease future variants as more people receive vaccinations and reduce the pandemic’s economic toll. The economic toll of the pandemic has hit low- and middle-income countries the hardest. Countries faced significant economic losses during the pandemic, a situation that continues as the pandemic lingers on. Money is necessary to continue battling the pandemic in low- and middle-income countries as vaccination rates are low.
Studies by the UNDP show that if low-income countries had the same vaccination rates as high-income countries in September 2021, the combined GDP of these low-income nations would have increased by more than $16 billion in the same year.
The NIH hopes its actions will inspire more countries to offer up licenses on COVID-19 technology so that global manufacturers can make generic versions of vaccines and treatments. Looking ahead, more globally available technology licenses will give low- and middle-income countries the tools necessary to address future health crises.
– Abigail Turner