Public Health

Taxing sugary drinks unlikely to cut Newfoundland and Labrador obesity rates

Newfoundland is creeping toward a fiscal cliff.

The province’s debt load is more than $12 billion, which is approximately $23,000 per resident. COVID-19 has obviously worsened that troubling trend, with this year’s budget deficit expected to reach $826 million.

Just this week legislators proposed a handful of tax hikes to help cover the gap, ranging from increasing personal income tax rates for the wealthier brackets, increasing taxes on cigarettes, and the outright silly concept of a “Pepsi tax.”

In one year’s time, the province will implement a tax on sugary drinks at a rate of 20 cents per litre, generating an estimated almost $9 million per year in revenue.

Finance Minister Siobhan Coady justified the tax, beyond the need for revenue, stating that the tax will “position Newfoundland and Labrador as a leader in Canada and will help avoid future demands on the health-care system.”

When described like that, a Pepsi tax sounds harmonious. Who doesn’t want to curb obesity and generate revenue?

Unfortunately for supporters of the tax, the evidence isn’t really there.

In one year’s time, the province will implement a tax on sugary drinks at a rate of 20 cents per litre, generating an estimated nearly $9 million per year in revenue.

Unfortunately for supporters of the tax, the evidence isn’t really there. In one year’s time, the province will implement a tax on sugary drinks at a rate of 20 cents per litre, generating an estimated nearly $9 million per year in revenue.

Regressive taxes

Consumption taxes like this are often highly regressive, meaning that low-income residents bear most of the burden, and are ultimately ineffective in achieving their public health goals.

Looking to Mexico provides a good case study on the efficacy of soft drink taxes. With one of the highest obesity rates in the world, Mexico enacted a soft drink tax, increasing prices by nearly 13 per cent, with the goal of reducing caloric intake. A time-series analysis of the impact of the tax showed that it reduced consumption of these drinks by only 3.8 per cent, which represents less than seven calories per day. Estimates from Canada also show the same. When PEI’s Green Party proposed a soft drink tax of 20 per cent per litre it was only estimated to reduce caloric intake from soft drinks by two per cent, which is approximately 2.5 calories per day.

While these taxes do in fact reduce consumption to some degree, the reductions are so small that they have virtually no impact on obesity rates. To make matters worse, taxes like this aren’t just ineffective in combating obesity, they are heavily regressive. Looking again at the data from Mexico, the tax they implemented was largely paid for by those with a low socioeconomic status.

In fact, a majority of the revenue, upwards of 63 per cent, was generated from families at, or below, the poverty line. If we take the province’s estimation of $9 million a year in revenue, it is reasonable to assume that $5.67 million of that revenue will be coming from the pockets of low-income Newfoundlanders.

In other jurisdictions south of the border, like Cook County Illinois, no soda tax has avoided the uncomfortable reality of being incredibly regressive, which is partly why they eventually abandoned the tax altogether.

Doubtful benefits

Newfoundlanders need to ask themselves, is it worth implementing a heavily regressive tax on low-income families to move the needle on obesity by a few calories a day? I’d argue that the negatives of the tax far outweigh the benefits, and that’s before business impacts enter the equation. This also happens to be the same conclusion found in New Zealand.

The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, in a report to the Ministry of Health, stated that “We have yet to see any clear evidence that imposing a sugar tax would meet a comprehensive cost-benefit test.”

While both budget shortfalls and obesity are serious problems, a “Pepsi tax” isn’t a serious solution.

Originally published here.

Nicotine flavor ban: A lesson in why a bill should not become a law

A few years ago, a liberal law professor friend in New York asked me to help her with a lesson. I was tasked with coming up with a public health policy that students across a wide ideological spectrum could agree upon.

I suggested a policy promoting public health education explaining how vaccines work, as part of an educational campaign to support more widespread acceptance of essential vaccinations.

This proposal met some key criteria in that it was not intrusive, it was based on science as well as common-sense, was always timely and was consistent with broad-based public health goals.

The professor reported back that my topic led to a lively discussion about policy-making and was instructive about how to govern effectively, especially in politically polarized environments.

Now I’d like to propose another public health policy discussion that reasonable people with a wide range of ideologies should also agree upon, but this time, we’d evaluate a policy that should be widely rejected.

The same type of fundamental criteria apply. The proposal should be overly-intrusive, based on neither science or common-sense, particularly untimely, and inconsistent with broader public health policy goals.

A bill so ill-conceived is now being introduced by a member of the New York State Assembly who lives in my Upper West Side neighborhood. Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal is proposing to ban flavored nicotine pouches used by adult smokers to quit smoking.

These pouches fall into the category known as non-combustible alternative tobacco products. They contain nicotine derived from tobacco, but unlike other forms of oral tobacco such as chewing tobacco and Swedish-style moist snus, they don’t contain actual tobacco leaf. Nonetheless, they are still regulated as tobacco products and are subject to the strict regulatory process now being implemented by the Food and Drug Administration. 

Those rules include a requirement that a product be authorized for marketing only if the agency finds it to be “appropriate for the protection of public health.” And, of course, sales of any tobacco product to anyone under 21 are illegal under federal law.

A basic tenet of regulatory policy can be drawn from the restrictions the Supreme Court has placed on laws affecting constitutional rights, which is that a rule must be specifically and narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling government interest.

In the case of a proposed ban on flavors in nicotine pouches, the stated interest is to prevent youth use of a tobacco product. In that regard, it is quite compelling.

But the rule is certainly not at all tailored to achieve that purpose. The ban would apply to all flavored products, not to minors who would purchases it. 

In fact, because these are legally considered to be tobacco products, it is already illegal to sell these products to anyone under 21 in New York, as well as the rest of the country. So essentially the law is a ban on the sale of these products to adults.

Another way to evaluate such a proposal is to ask the questions, we asked in the academic setting:

  • Is the proposal intrusive?
  • Is it based on science as well as common-sense?
  • Is it timely?
  • Is it consistent with broad-based public health goals?

Such a ban would certainly be intrusive. It would prevent adult smokers from access to a significantly less harmful alternative to cigarettes. Flavors are essential In order for products such as these to be appealing to adult smokers an alternative to a cigarette. “Intrusive” is a rather gentle term when trying to describe a rule that would take ban access to a product that could save an addicted smoker’s life.

The proposal is also devoid of any science. Although the science is clear, youth should not use any nicotine containing products, a ban on the sale of lower-risk nicotine products to adults has no evidentiary basis and undermines the well-established public health principle of harm reduction. Remember, because sales of tobacco to those under 21 are already illegal, the only legal change this rule would cause is a ban on sales to adults. So common sense, together with our national history regarding prohibition, make it clear that Assemblymember Rosenthal’s proposal fails this test miserably as well.

As New York continues to grapple with public health challenges caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, including the tragic scandal related to the state’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic, now seems like a strange time to introduce an intrusive and unscientific ban on a product which, even the bills’ supporters recognize, aren’t being used by youth, as were e-cigarettes.

In fact, the regulations on e-cigarettes have given fewer acceptable lower-risk alternatives to adult smokers who can’t or won’t stop using nicotine. So now would be a particularly dangerous time to ban the sale of flavored nicotine products to adults.  

Finally, the proposed ban is inconsistent with broader public health policy developed by Congress and now being implemented by the Food and Drug Administration.  The FDA has consistently explained that “tobacco products exist on a continuum of risk, with combustible cigarettes being the deadliest.”  The FDA is counting on lower-risk non-combustible products, authorized by the agency, to replace cigarettes for adults who need or want to use nicotine. A state ban on products the FDA is currently evaluating as a tool for tobacco harm reduction would undermine the difficult but promising regulatory process.

The pandemic has reminded us that the government has tremendous power over everyone’s lives, even in a freedom-loving democracy as ours. But there’s a line — there are standards as outlined above that can help us distinguish between rules which promote public health and those which, no matter how noble the stated intention, serve to undermine it.

Originally published here.

Obesity is America’s next pandemic

But public health authorities are asleep at the wheel

Obesity is out of control. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 42 percent of Americans have reported undesired weight gain. Among children, the situation is even more dire, with 15.4 percent of those aged 2 to 17 reportedly obese by the end of 2020, up from 13.7 percent the year before.

These aren’t just abstract statistics. The U.S. has a huge shortfall in life expectancy compared to other developed countries, translating into around 400,000 excess deaths per year. When it comes to the difference between the U.S. and other similarly wealthy countries, 55 percent of America’s public health problems can be traced back to obesity.

Obesity is the next pandemic.

And if the U.S. is very unlucky, politicians will combat the new pandemic the same way they did the old, with sweeping authoritarian bans. Newsflash: A strong government response to obesity hasn’t worked so far, and it won’t work today.

The United Kingdom offers a troubling glimpse into the kinds of policies overactive American politicians might soon try to push through. Britain is led by a nominally Conservative prime minister in Boris Johnson, who calls himself libertarian and won his office by pledging to roll back the “continuing creep of the nanny state” — but you wouldn’t know it from his actions.

In reality, in recent years, the British government has unleashed an avalanche of new taxes and regulations aimed at making Britain slimmer. All have comprehensively failed — the U.K.’s obesity rates are higher than ever, with excess body fat responsible for more deaths than smoking every year since 2014 and over a million hospital admission for obesity-related treatment in England in the year leading up to the pandemic.

The state’s rampant interventionism in this area hasn’t made a dent, and there is no reason to think the result would be any different on the other side of the pond. In the U.K., a regressive sugar tax on soft drinks remains in place (despite Boris Johnson previously promising to scrap it) achieving nothing besides making the weekly shopping trip more expensive for those who can least afford it. There’s also a bizarre £100 million ($142 million) taxpayer-funded scheme which will supposedly solve Britain’s obesity crisis by bribing people to exercise.

The headline act, though, is an appalling move to ban advertising for ‘junk food’ before 9 p.m. on television and at all times online. The premise, proposed with great insistence by bankrupt celebrity chefs and now seemingly adopted by the government, is that helpless children are being bombarded with ads for unhealthy food online and therefore that the malevolent, profit-hungry advertising industry is single-handedly responsible for the national obesity crisis.

Even if that were the case, an advertising ban would be a wildly inappropriate policy response. Government analysis of the policy — not a hit job from a skeptical think tank, but research from the very same people who are insisting that this ad ban is vital — found that it will remove an average of 1.7 calories from children’s diets per day.

For context, that is roughly the equivalent of 0.3 grams of candy, or a little under six peas. The British government is unwavering in its willingness to hamstring an entire industry, even as the world inches towards a period of post-pandemic economic recovery, in order to effect an impossibly miniscule change in children’s diets, not to mention the policy’s disastrous implications for free enterprise and individual liberty.

America: Learn from Britain’s mistakes. Obesity is the next pandemic, but public health authorities who claim to be acting in our best interests have been asleep at the wheel for far too long. All over the world, bureaucrats have been peddling tired 20th-century ideas to deal with 21st-century problems and the U.S. is next in line. Public health is too important to leave up to an outdated and out-of-touch medical-industrial complex which is more interested in its virtue-signaling echo chambers than helping the vulnerable or achieving any real results.

Originally published here.

Propiedad intelectual, el derecho que se debate en el mundo por la liberación de patentes de las vacunas

Organizaciones internacionales rechazaron las medidas propuestas por la OMC. Si se aceptaran y aplicaran, sería contraproducente: profundizaría la crisis y debilitaría las bases de sustentación ante una futura pandemia.

El debate sobre el derecho de propiedad intelectual se puso al rojo vivo con la pretendida iniciativa de liberar las patentes de las vacunas.

Sin embargo, una acción de tal magnitud podría traer aparejado un efecto contrario al deseado ya que se vulneran los esfuerzos de empresas tras haber invertido cientos de millones de dólares en investigación y desarrollo.

Sobre este tópico, la Fundación Libertad y Progreso junto con otras 26 organizaciones internacionales rechazaron las medidas propuestas ante la Organización Mundial del Comercio (OMC), tendientes a anular los derechos de propiedad intelectual (DPI). El resultado de estas medidas, si se aceptaran y aplicaran, sería contraproducente: profundizaría la crisis en la que nos encontramos y debilitaría las bases de sustentación ante una futura pandemia.

Según el Global Health Innovation Center de Duke University, el mundo se encamina a producir 12.000 millones de dosis de distintas vacunas necesarias para brindar inmunidad de rebaño (70% de la población mundial). Una vejación masiva sobre los derechos de propiedad intelectual afectarán los incentivos para esta producción y futuras investigaciones para el bienestar de la humanidad.

El respeto por los derechos de propiedad intelectual es fundamental para acabar con la pandemia de la Covid-19 y reactivar la economía. La seguridad jurídica garantizará no sólo la producción, sino también el acceso a vacunas.

Libertad y Progreso suscribe a la declaración conjunta que establece los siguientes puntos:

*Los DPI son fundamentales para la producción a escala sostenible de vacunas;
*Los DPI son esenciales para la I&D para futuras pandemias;
*La competencia mundial, no la producción local forzada, será la que mantenga los precios bajos de las vacunas;
*Una suspensión de los DPI no tendrá efecto sobre la producción de vacunas sin una transferencia tecnológica forzada, la cual sería demasiado lenta, estaría llena de problemas legales y causaría mucho daño económico.

Al 20 de abril del 2021, había 217 vacunas anti-Covid (además de más de 600 tratamientos antivirales y terapéuticos) bajo desarrollo a nivel mundial. Este mercado competitivo e innovador se encuentra bajo riesgo con las iniciativas multilaterales anti-DPI. La escasez de vacunas en la Argentina y en otros países, no se hubiera producido o hubiera sido transitoria si los gobiernos respectivos hubieran actuado con diligencia.

Las organizaciones abajo firmantes, hacemos un llamado a los gobiernos para que protejan el sistema de innovación que ha suministrado múltiples vacunas y medicamentos anti-Covid en tiempo récord. De no ser así, la inversión futura para nuevos desarrollos para enfrentar las nuevas cepas de Covid-19 y futuras pandemias será menor y, por ende el costo humano será superior.

La declaración fue firmada por la   Asociación de Consumidores Libres de Costa Rica, Alternate Solutions Institute de Pakistán, Austrian Economic Centre de Austria, Bay Area Council Economic Institute de los Estados Unidos, Centro Mackenzie de Liberdade Econômica del Brasil, Center for Global Enterprise de los Estados Unidos,  Competere de Italia, Consumer Choice Centre de Bélgica, Free Market Foundation de Sudáfrica, Fundación Eléutera de Honduras, Fundación IDEA de México, Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy de Malasia, Geneva Network de Reino Unido, Imani Centre for Policy and Education de Ghana, Information Technology and Innovation Foundation de los Estados Unidos, Instituto de Ciencia Política de Colombia, Instituto de Libre Empresa del Perú, Istituto Bruno Leoni de Italia, Istituto per la Competitivà (I-Com) de Italia, KSI Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific de Malasia Libertad y Desarrollo de Chile, Libertad y Progreso de Argentina, McDonald-Laurier Institute de Canadá, Minimal Government Thinkers de Filipinas, Paramadina Public Policy Institute de Indonesia, Prime Institute de Pakistán y Property Rights Alliance de los Estados Unidos.

Originally published here.

Boris Johnson’s interventionist obesity strategy will fail. We need more choice, not less to slim down

Obesity is on the rise like never before. More than one in four people in the UK are now obese, one of the driving forces behind the mortality rate from Covid. In the year leading up to the pandemic, more than a million people were admitted to hospital for obesity-related treatment in England.

Record hospitalisations should be a wake-up call. Public health authorities on both an international and national level have failed to front up to the sheer scale of the challenge. Public Health England and the World Health Organisation are both indoctrinated with interventionist tunnel vision. For them, fighting obesity is banning things, taxing them out of existence, trying to manipulate consumers with intrusive campaigns and attempting to shame them into making “better decisions”. 

Those charged with addressing public health issues are reading from the same tired hymn sheet of failed policies. They are trotting out twentieth-century ideas to deal with twenty-first-century problems and their failures have tragic consequences on an enormous scale.

The headline act in this appalling show is the government’s plan to ban junk food ads. The policy looks set to go ahead after being included in the Queen’s Speech, despite extensive campaigns calling attention to the problems with an overly intrusive approach, for the advertising industry and everyone else.

My mother, a working-class, immigrant single parent, runs a small baking business out of her kitchen. Under the mad ad ban plan, my mum posting pictures of her cakes on Instagram will become illegal. And for what? The government’s own analysis of the policy found that it will remove an average of 1.7 calories from children’s diets per day – roughly half a Smartie.

When asked about the case of a bakery with an Instagram account, the prime minister’s spokesperson was unable to offer any reassurances. A government source quoted in the Sunday Times earlier this year said: “there will be caveats – this is not aimed at small companies advertising home-made cakes online. It is aimed at the food giants.” It remains unclear how a blanket ban on a certain type of advertising can be legally targeted at some companies and not others.

The solution to the obesity crisis lies in more freedom of choice, not less. Even those evil food giants are responding to public pressure, keen to be seen making an effort in this area. McDonald’s, for instance, is providing five million hours of football training across the UK. Even Britain’s pubs play an important role, contributing more than £40 million every year to grassroots sports.

When people voice their concern en masse about a particular issue, private actors go out of their way to make themselves useful and do something about it. Countless companies are voluntarily investing in healthy lifestyle schemes or cutting back their own contributions to obesity. Tesco, for example, has laid out an ambitious plan to boost the proportion of its food sales which is made up of healthy products to 65 per cent, setting an example for the rest of the industry as the market shifts.

Attempts to centralise responses to public health crises in government and concentrate responsibility in Whitehall fail consistently. Tesco’s radical new agenda was not motivated by public health bureaucrats, but instead by demands from its own shareholders and pressure from competitors including Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. While Public Health England is cracking down on Marmite ads and Instagram pictures of cupcakes, the group of people arguably doing more than anyone else to make Britain healthier are private corporate investors.

Companies and consumer choice are our allies, not our enemies, in the fight against obesity. Rather than trying to hold back the tide, let’s harness the power of the market to tackle obesity.

Originally published here.

Parenting, not paternalism, defeats bad diets

Parents are the best judges of the education of their children.

The European Union regulates so-called “junk food” advertising, in order to protect children from exposure to harmful content. Its rules target food that are high in energy, saturated fats, trans-fatty acids, sugar and salt. This really translates as a massive distrust in parenting.

It undoubtedly sounds terrible when we read the words “advertisements targeting children”. Children, being the most vulnerable people of all, shouldn’t be targeted like the same way a hunter peeks through a scope, which seems to be the semantic implication when the word is used. In reality, it’s hard to imagine that many consumers would regard a TV ad for corn flakes that includes a cartoon character, as predatory behaviour by marketing companies.

And yet, this is precisely what lead Chile to ban these characters on cereal boxes earlier this year, and has motivated British star-cook Jamie Oliver to demand a similar rule in the United Kingdom, despite practicing the same in his own videos. We all know the saying: do as I say, not do as I do.

Some campaigners will find this hard to believe, and yet: removing Tony the Tiger from a cereal box won’t make children eat healthier all by themselves. The entire reason why children are not considered adults, is because they cannot properly evaluate the results of their actions, and they will eat anything sweet or fatty that tastes good to them.

Unless we were to remove children completely from their parents, there would be no way for us to make sure that their nutrition is entirely according to the guidelines of national health ministries.

Between a child (as opposed to youth) seeing an advertisement and the act of purchasing the product, there is a parent who has to make the decision whether or not to allow the child to receive it. By restricting the ability to market the product, we’d forgo the judgement of the parents. Far worse, such restrictions would tell parents that the government does not believe that they are able to do their job properly.

In a similar manner, alcohol and alcohol advertising is perfectly legal and available, yet we trust the resounding majority of parents to provide educational background on alcohol to their children.

Raising awareness about the consequences of too much sugar and fat is the right way of going about this problem: it empowers consumers by providing them with information, and endorses a non-paternalistic approach. The last thing we need is for the advancements in public health to backfire due to restrictions on marketing.

As a matter of fact, branding bans can indeed backfire. Brands establish consumer loyalty, yet they can equally reverse it very quickly. If a producer is know for its brand name or logo, making mistakes will make recognizable marketing into a liability. On the other hand, competitors can exploit marketing techniques to sell better products.

Most of all, advertising bans are lazy decision making. The conversation about the education of children, and the gap between counselling parents and interfering in what they see fit for the education of their children is narrow, and requires intricate analysis.

Restricting the advertisements of “predatory” companies on the other hand is a far simpler solution to understand. It’s very much the equivalent of Ostrich effect: if I do not see it, I can make the problem go away. But as the problem does not go away with this particular ban, it is very likely that conclusion will be reached that

A) the ban wasn’t stringent enough, or that

B) MORE bans are necessary. As a result, we’re being trapped with a legislative avalanche that does not empower consumers.

Parents are the best judges of the education of their children. We should empower them as consumers through information, not paternalism.

Originally published here.

Canada under pressure to support waiver lifting patents on Covid-19 vaccines

David Clement is interviewed on CTV’s “Your Morning,” making the case for why Canada should not support the #TRIPSwaiver​ at the WHO, which would suspend intellectual property protections on COVID vaccines and tech, and what Canada and the U.S. can actually do to support increasing the global supply of vaccines.

Originally posted here.

We Don’t Need to Lift Patents to Make Vaccines More Accessible

And weakening of IP rules would actively hurt the most vulnerable.

A full 14 months into the pandemic, nearly half of Americans who are eligible have received at least one vaccine dose. The end is in sight, and we have innovation to thank. And so, as our economy reopens and restrictions are being lifted, attention is turning to hard-hit nations like India and Brazil, currently experiencing skyrocketing case numbers. 

The question, then, is how to boost vaccinations abroad. The New York Times notes that India’s outbreak is causing the country to restrict export of its own vaccines, which could hurt Africa in particular, since those nations are relying on Indian vaccines. 

In the face of pressure to use every tool available to boost vaccinations abroad, the Biden administration announced last week that it supported a proposal to waive patent protections on the COVID vaccines. 

This measure, which is called a TRIPS Waiver (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) and was put forth last fall at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa, would be far more than just a temporary fix for more shots.

If the waiver is triggered, it would ostensibly nullify IP protections on COVID vaccines, allowing countries and companies to copy the formulas developed by private vaccine firms in hopes of making their own, with no guarantee of success or safety.

The coalition backing Biden’s pledge includes Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and World Health Organization Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who first backed this effort in 2020 before any coronavirus vaccine was approved.

Intellectual property rights are protections that help foster innovation and provide legal certainty to innovators so that they can profit from and fund their efforts. A weakening of IP rules would actively hurt the most vulnerable—the same people that groups who support the IP waiver are nominally trying to help.

The power to issue the waiver comes from a section in the 1995 treaty that created the World Trade Organization, meant to protect intellectual property among global trade partners. While a COVID vaccine waiver would be the most substantial one to date, similar efforts have been attempted on both HIV/AIDS medicines and generic drugs, the latter the only other successful case.

The push for a waiver ignores that many companies have voluntarily pledged to sell their vaccines at cost or even offered to share information with other firms. Moderna, for its part, has stated it will not enforce the IP rights on its mRNA vaccine during the pandemic and will hand over any research to those who can scale up production. The developers of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have pledged to sell it at cost until the pandemic is over.

Further, this measure would have far-reaching implications. Supporters claim that because COVID represents such a global threat and because Western governments have poured billions in to securing and helping produce vaccines, low and middle-income countries should be relieved of the burden of purchasing them. But rich countries are already donating vaccines to the World Health Organizations COVAX program, which gifts countries vaccines free of charge.

There are a few reasons that a TRIPS waiver is unlikely to be the most efficient solution. The vaccines require specialized knowledge to develop and produce these vaccines, and the mRNA vaccines require cold storage. As economist Alex Tabarrok has pointed out, vaccine makers have been scouring the globe for adequate vaccine facilities but fallen short. 

It  seems implausible that any of this could be achieved outside the traditional procurement contracts we’ve seen in the European Union and the U.S. What is more likely is an increase of botched and unsafe vaccines that would be risky for vulnerable populations, as philanthropist Bill Gates has claimed in his opposition to the waiver.

If the cost of researching and producing a COVID vaccine is truly $1 billion as is claimed, with no guarantee of success, there are relatively few biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies that can stomach that cost. And distribution would be an entirely different story.

If Biden’s administration wants to help vulnerable nations, there is an easier way: release the tens of millions of doses of AstraZeneca vaccines sitting dormant in warehouses, which the FDA has not yet approved, and begin exporting our vaccine surplus to the most hard-hit countries. That’s precisely why the COVAX initiative was created, and why the U.S. should support it.

Meanwhile, let’s also look at the future implications of moving now to restrict IP protections for the very companies that have delivered the life-saving vaccines that will get us out of our current pandemic.

BioNTech, the German company headed by the husband-wife team of Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci that partnered with Pfizer for trials and distribution of their mRNA vaccine, was originally founded to use mRNA to cure cancer. Before the pandemic, they took on massive debt and scrambled to fund their research. Once the pandemic began, they pivoted their operations and produced one of the first mRNA COVID vaccines, which hundreds of millions of people have received.

With billions in sales to governments and millions in direct private investment, we can expect the now-flourishing BioNTech to be at the forefront of mRNA cancer research, which could give us a cure. The same is true of many orphan and rare diseases that do not otherwise receive major funding.

Would this have been possible without intellectual property protections?

If we want to be able to confront and end this pandemic, we will continue to need innovation from both the vaccine makers and producers who make this possible. Granting a one-time waiver will create a precedent of nullifying IP rights for a host of other medicines, which would greatly endanger future innovation and millions of potential patients.

Especially in the face of morphing COVID variants, we need all incentives on the table to protect us against the next phase of the virus. 

Rather than seeking to tear down those who have delivered the miracle of quick, cheap, and effective vaccines, we need to support their innovations and provide supplies to countries who need them. Symbolic gestures that will have drastic consequences, especially on the most vulnerable, just aren’t up to the task.

Originally published here.

Скасування патентів на КОВІД-вакцини вб’є інновацію у світі

Що потягне за собою скасування патентів на вакцини

Раніше цього тижня адміністрація президента Байдена підтримала призупення захисту прав інтелектуальної власності у Світовій Організації Торгівлі (СОТ). Таке рішення було прийнято з метою пришвидишити вироблення вакцин і відповідно вакцинацію населення світу, зокрема це стосується країн, що розвиваються. Наслідком підривання прав інтелектуальної власності стане різке зменшення інновації у світі, чорний ринок вакцин, і негативне бачення вакцинації як такої.

Передісторія

У жовтні 2020 року Індія та Південно-Африканська Республіка вперше висунули глобальну пропозицію про відмову від деяких положень Угоди про торгові аспекти прав інтелектуальної власності (TRIPS) Світової організації торгівлі (далі – СОТ), щоб дозволити будь-якому виробникам фармацевтичних препаратів виготовляти вакцини COVID та розповсюджувати їх. Крім патентів, йшлось про інші форми захисту прав інтелектуальної власності, щоб забезпечити виготовлення та розповсюдження необхідних медичних виробів, таких як маски, вентилятори, засоби індивідуального захисту.

З тих пір ця пропозиція отримала підтримку понад 100 країн, в тому числі Франції, Іспанії та, нещодавно, США.

Але Австралія, поряд із Великобританією, ЄС, Швейцарією, Японією, Бразилією та Норвегією, як і раніше утримуються від підтримки. Німеччина особливо наполеливо виступає проти підривання захисту патентів.

“Пропозиція США про скасування захисту патентів на вакцини від COVID-19 має серйозні наслідки для виробництва вакцин в цілому”, – сказала речниця уряду Німеччини. Вона додала, що “захист інтелектуальної власності є джерелом інновацій і має залишатися таким і в майбутньому”.

Що таке TRIPS

Угода TRIPS є невід’ємною частиною правової бази СОТ щодо інтелектуальної власності. Згідно зі статтею 27 (2) Угоди TRIPS, країни-члени СОТ можуть виключити патентоспроможність винаходів, необхідних для захисту здоров’я населення. Стаття 30 дозволяє учасникам робити обмежені винятки з прав, наданих патентом.

Серед іншого, угода, основною метою якої є захист прав інтелектуальної власності, також включає положення про примусове ліцензування або використання предмета патенту без дозволу правовласника (стаття 31). По суті, це означає, що “у разі надзвичайної ситуації в країні чи інших обставин надзвичайної невідкладності або у випадках некомерційного використання в державних цілях” держава-член може дозволити комусь іншому виробляти запатентований продукт без згоди власника патента.

Тоді як за звичайних обставин особа чи компанія, яка подає заявку на ліцензію, повинна спочатку спробувати отримати добровільну ліцензію у правовласника на розумних комерційних умовах (стаття 31b). Однак немає необхідності намагатися отримати добровільну ліцензію спочатку за гнучкістю TRIPS, про яку власне йде мова.

Таким чином, гнучкість TRIPS дозволяє країнам замінити глобальні правила інтелектуальної власності, щоб зменшити шкоду, заподіяну надзвичайною ситуацією, і в основному має предметом фармацевтичні препарати.

Поточні пропозиції Індії та Південної Африки спрямовані на більшу гнучкість, ніж передбачена в Угоді TRIPS.

Скасування патентів на вакцини є політичним та недалекоглядним рішенням.

Якими будуть наслідки

Імплементація пропозиції зробить можливим виробляння вакцин компаніями, які за нормальних умов могли би не отримати дозвіл на виготовлення вакцини через брак виробничих потужностей і знань загалом, чи можливості забезпечити правильне зберігання. Таким чином, після скасування патентів не буде жодних гарантій безпеки виробництва вакцин, що стане прямою загрозою для здоров’я людства. Якщо дози будуть вироблятись сторонніми постачальниками, спираючись на запатентовані формули та процеси, але без спеціалізації, це збільшить ризики псування вакцин або виготовлення поганих недіючих вакцин, які підірвуть вакцинацію загалом.

Фальшиві вакцини не просто підірвуть світовий вихід з пандемії, але й поставлять під загрозу життя та зменшать довіру до вакцин.

Кращий спосіб заохотити справедливий розподіл існуючих вакцин – це не усунути фінансові стимули а зробити те, що більшість виробників вакцин проти COVID-19 насправді вже роблять: зниження їх цін для країн, що розвиваються, або продаж вакцини на вартість. Розробники вакцини Оксфорд-АстраЗенека пообіцяли продавати за собівартістю, поки пандемія не закінчиться.

Чому важливо захистити права інтелектуальної власності

Противники прав інтелектуальної власності часто роблять помилку, сприймаючи інновації як належне, тим самим закриваючи очі на рушійну силу будь-якого виду підприємництва: економічні стимули. Патенти та різні інші форми інтелектуальної власності не є упередженими щодо винахідника. Навпаки, вони гарантують, що компанії можуть продовжувати впроваджувати інновації та постачати свою продукцію споживачам.

Короткотерміновим результатом зниження прав інтелектуальної власності буде розширений доступ до інновацій, але в довгостроковій перспективі інновацій не буде. 

Нам потрібно захищати права інтелектуальної власності, якщо ми хочемо перемогти коронавірус та багато інших захворювань. Пацієнти, яким одного разу можуть поставити діагноз невиліковних захворювань, таких як хвороба Альцгеймера, діабет або ВІЛ/СНІД, повинні скористатися шансом на отримання ліків, а захист прав інтелектуальної власності – це єдиний спосіб надати їм такий шанс.

Originally published here.

BRASIL TEM QUE FORTALECER AS LEIS DE PI PARA COMBATER A PANDEMIA E VOLTAR A CRESCER

Consumer Choice Center (Centro de Escolha do Consumidor) tem acompanhado de perto os efeitos da pandemia na vida dos consumidores, desde o acesso e distribuição da vacina até as consequências no mercado interno e international.

Para Fabio Fernandes, diretor global de Relações Institucionais e Governamentais da entidade de defesa do consumidor Consumer Choice Center, “agora que grande parte dos países do mundo tem acesso à vacina, a próxima luta não será contra o vírus mas pela recuperação econômica”

“As leis e acordos de propriedade intelectual como o TRIPs – do qual o Brasil é signatário – foram fundamentais na descoberta e desenvolvimento em um curtíssimo espaço de tempo da vacina para o COVID-19. Porém algumas pessoas querem flexibilizar essas regras, o que causaria danos irreversíveis” disse Fernandes.

“Precisamos permanecer firmes em nossa defesa dos direitos de propriedade intelectual se quisermos derrotar o coronavírus e as suas variantes, além de muitas outras doenças que hoje são incuráveis. Proteger a propriedade intelectual é a única maneira de dar a esses pacientes uma chance de cura. Se agirmos sem temperamento agora, expandindo ou flexibilizando a TRIPs e enfraquecermos ainda mais os direitos de PI, causaremos danos que dificilmente serão reversíveis, e o mundo pós-pandêmico terá de pagar a conta.”

No Brasil, o artigo 40 da Lei de Direitos de Propriedade Intelectual nº 9.279/1996 que está sendo julgado pelo STF, é um mecanismo criado para compensar atrasos administrativos do Inpi (Instituto Nacional de Propriedade Industrial) e concede automaticamente à patente uma exclusividade mínima de dez anos.

Para Fernandes “Os consumidores estão preocupados com a possibilidade de novos produtos, tecnologias e medicamentos não estarem disponíveis no Brasil por uma insegurança jurídica. A lei de propriedade intelectual no Brasil está de acordo com o padrão internacional e essa decisão do STF pode enfraquecer esse direito pondo em risco o futuro da inovação no Brasil”

“Vacinas para o setor de agropecuária, remédios contra o Câncer, componentes de informática como microchips para celulares, telecomunicações como a rede 5G e até Inteligência Artificial são alguns exemplos de produtos e inovações que podem atrasar ou até mesmo nunca chegarem ao mercado brasileiro se o Artigo 40 for derrubado” afirmou Fernandes.

“A raiz do problema não é o parágrafo 40 e sim os enormes atrasos que os órgãos públicos brasileiros causam na aprovação de patentes. Esses atrasos prejudicam não apenas as empresas que solicitam proteção de patentes, mas também os consumidores e pacientes que aguardam a aprovação das patentes para ver a entrada de produtos e medicamentos no mercado brasileiro.” explicou Fernandes.

“Os maiores interessados em derrubar o parágrafo 40 são as indústrias farmacêuticas de medicamentos genéricos e biossimilares, que usam os consumidores para fazer campanha para ‘redução nos preços’. O que precisamos na realidade é adotar políticas que baixem impostos e diminuam a burocracia e não aquelas que legalizam o roubo de propriedade intelectual, afinal, os consumidores querem as mais novas tecnologias com preços competitivos e não produtos velhos baratos.” argumentou Fernandes.

“A inovação é resultado de um ambiente de segurança jurídica que permita o inventor de ser remunerado pelo enorme tempo e dinheiro investido em desenvolver a nova tecnologia. Privar o inventor do seu direito acaba por privar também os consumidores acesso à inovações e o país de crescer economicamente no médio e longo prazo. Por isso a Estratégia Nacional de Propriedade Intelectual tem um horizonte de 10 anos” disse Fernandes.

“Qualquer tentativa de erodir a propriedade intelectual deve ser vista pelo que realmente é: uma ameaça à inovações futuras e à nossa recuperação econômica pós-pandemia.” concluiu Fernandes.

Originally published here.

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