A watered-down Covid-19 vaccine IP waiver nears the finish line: Will it actually expand supplies?
The US, EU, India, and South Africa have forged at least a preliminary agreement around an intellectual property (IP) waiver at the World Trade Organization — a move the four countries hope will help others attain more Covid-19 vaccine supplies, even as advocates have said the waiver won’t do much.
The waiver, according to a leaked draft version, will apply to any developing country participating in the WTO that exported less than 10% of the world’s Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2021 (i.e., not China or Russia, but India could use it).
But it will be limited to patents, and not include other trade secrets, and it will only cover vaccines for now, and not therapeutics or tests. But six months after the vaccine IP waiver takes effect, the plan says that WTO members will decide on whether it should be extended to cover diagnostics and therapeutics too.
Those advocating for the waiver from the start did not offer much support for this latest plan.
“This is not a victory for vaccine equity,” Tahir Amin, an IP lawyer and co-founder of the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge, tweeted, adding to Endpoints News:
So it appears this ‘compromise’ includes things the US were against as well as the EU. They have both squeezed the negotiation space of South Africa and India to accept a half baked solution. I would emphasize this is not a TRIPS waiver in the full sense as hoped. It reflects the power dynamics that the Global North countries have and how the rules of the WTO are stacked against the Global South in pandemics and otherwise.
“It does not do much that you can’t already do,” KEI founder and IP waiver and compulsory license advocate Jamie Love told Endpoints.
Nonprofit advocacy org Public Citizen also said in a statement that this proposal would help no one “but the floundering WTO and should be rejected.” The group noted key limitations, including “the proposal appears to cover only vaccines (not tests and treatments), cover only patents (not other important intellectual property barriers), be limited geographically, and further undermine current WTO flexibilities for compulsory licenses.”
My quick, overall take is that deal provides clarity & modest advances beyond what could already be done on a country-by-country basis under existing TRIPS flexibilities
But it comes very late in pandemic, when world is much less supply constrained
— Tom Bollyky (@TomBollyky) March 16, 2022
Biopharma industry groups were similarly unimpressed, with the IFPMA urging the WTO that biopharma companies “reaffirm their position that weakening patents now when it is widely acknowledged that there are no longer supply constraints of COVID-19 vaccines, sends the wrong signal.”
Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala also cautioned that not all of the final details have been ironed out.
“In the WTO we decide by consensus, and this has not yet been achieved. My team and I have been working hard for the past three months and we are ready to roll up our sleeves again to work together with the TRIPS Council Chair Ambassador Lansana Gberie (Sierra Leone) to bring about a full agreement as quickly as possible,” she said in a statement.