Watch the Global Vaccine Inequity: COVID-19 and Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime Webinar + with highlights

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  • 29 Jun 2021
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Event co-organized by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Canadian Trade Justice Network. This video has been edited.
Speakers:
Arianna Schouten, researcher, Knowledge Ecology International
John R. Fulton, president, BioNiagara
Richard Elliott, executive director, HIV Legal Network

I think historians will look back on this situation and shake their heads and wonder how the Canadian government let this happen. To quote Ariana from one of our very first meetings with the government: if we can’t get this legislation to work now during a pandemic, then what’s the use? What it’s for? You pull the smoke alarm and the fire department is supposed to show up and you go downstairs and you look at the water’s not even hooked up.”

-John Fulton

What is the Canada Access to Medicine Regime?

“The object and purpose of CAMR is to enable pharmaceutical manufacturers to apply for a license in order to export a lower priced version of the patented pharmaceutical product to a lower income country unable to manufacture on their own.” 

-Arianna Schouten

We need fundamental change to the global intellectual property & access to medicine regime, but domestic justice is also needed

“The WTO waiver of the intellectual property provisions in the TRIPS agreement is an essential part of this. It is a broader and more upstream intervention.”  (See more details on the TRIPS waiver here)

“At the same time, we need progress at the domestic level to ensure the capacity to make products and get them to the countries and the people that need them. That is going to require action at the domestic level, both in producing and exporting countries and importing and using countries.”

“CAMR is a specific set of intellectual property hurdles that need to be navigated and overcome in order to achieve a specific outcome. But it doesn’t deal with a broader range of intellectual property issues that are at play and they can also operate as barriers. We need to actually get more at the root of the problem at the end of the day, which is to have, at a global level, intellectual property rules on multiple aspects of intellectual property that are creating barriers.”

But at the same time… “CAMR needs to be functional. History tells us that it’s not likely to be functional without some serious change.”

-Richard Elliot

CAMR process is insufficient & full of barriers 

“Canada has been making claims at the WTO […] that they are the only member [of the WTO] that has used this special compulsory licensing system and that based on this the system works. 

However based on KEI’s experience during COVID-19, and as well working working with Biolyse – that they’re saying that the system works as intended stands in stark contrast to attempting to try and make COVID-19 products during a pandemic – trying to amend schedule one is taking months and months and months, when there’s countries in desperate need of vaccines. 

So effectively, and experts and NGOs have also agreed, CAMR discourages use and is extremely time consuming. It almost stands in contrast to the object and purpose which is to enable manufacturers to get a license to export in a country in need.”

-Arianna Schouten

It was built this way

“The approach of the Canadian governments to what was then named Canada’s access to medicines regime has been an exercise in bureaucratic stonewalling, hypocrisy and frustration right from the very beginning.”

“CAMR began because civil society in Canada, began to push during negotiations at the WTO – over what became the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS agreement of public health – for Canada to support the demands that were coming forward from NGOS and from developing countries for more flexibility in the WTO rules on intellectual property.

People could see that as those rules, that were drafted in the Global North and basically lifted largely from NAFTA, were now going to globalize and would increasingly cause barriers for countries that don’t have the resources, don’t have the level of industrial development in their pharmaceutical sector that a number of the countries who negotiated those rules in the Global north have. Therefore the consequence to them would be even worse than it would be in the Global North where the impact would be mitigated to some degree by those resources and by the availability domestically of that technical know-how.”

“[CAMR] passed with a number of features that the patent holding pharmaceutical company, aided and abetted by a number of MPs in parliament at the time (some of them still there – in particular Marc Garneau, Stefphane Dion, Marlene Jennings and almost all Conservative MPs, with a few exceptions). Those MPs introduced a number of provisions into the final legislation that was passed that have resulted in the kinds of problems you’ve heard described here today.

-Richard Elliot

Biolyse could be producing vaccines right now –  has been ignored by the Canadian government

“We could be producing vaccines […] We’ve been trying to get the COVID 19 vaccine to Schedule 1 – Schedule One of the patent act is a list of patented pharmaceutical products that are eligible for export pursuant to the Canadian Access to Medicine’s Regime.”

“I call it the trap door. Canada is the only country in the world that has this trap door – or locked door – in front of the compulsory license application process. We can’t even get it started. The government officials won’t return my phone calls. My local MP who promised a meeting with me two months ago, senior policy advisor advisors in Champagne’s office, top level of government. There are millions of people dying and nothing but stonewalling.”

“Right now, to buy a high speed fill line – this is a machine that you know grabs like 60 vials every second, tens of millions of doses, bottles – it takes 3 years to be built and we have three of them sitting here at the plant. Sitting idle. We have bioreactors – which you can’t get your hands on these on these machines right now. These are actually stainless steel bioreactors that don’t require the plastic bags that are in short supply right now. Biolyse is a company that’s directly involved in the supply chain. We can get the stoppers, we can get the viles, we can get everything we need to produce vaccines. And we’re one of the few companies in Canada that exists now, that have production-fill-finish capacity, laboratories and the people that could do this. […] Why is there not a small investment coming to Biolyse to help us scale up and to throw some money at some staff to get the patent act amended and add COVID vaccines to the list?”

-John Fulton

We need to keep the pressure up

“I fear that as more and more Canadians thankfully get vaccinated, that the sense of urgency to deal with the health problems of those “over there”, beyond our borders, will fade  – just as it has in the decades past with any number of other serious public health crises including the HIV crisis.”

-Richard Elliot