As TRIPS council meets, the IP waiver for vaccines is on life support ahead of a December deadline
The WTO’s TRIPS Council is meeting today and tomorrow to discuss a Covid-19 vaccine IP waiver that remains divisive and unlikely to be adopted thanks to European opposition, but which proponents still think could unlock more vaccine doses for low and middle-income countries.
Following the meetings this week, it’s expected there will be a better sense if some kind of waiver can be agreed to by December, Tahir Amin, an IP lawyer and co-executive director of I-Mak, told Endpoints News.
But he said that the odds of meeting the December deadline are “already looking slim given the blocking countries’ time wasting with redundant counter proposals that offer more of a failed IP trading system and the US not putting its whole weight into negotiations and an actual text.”
Despite initial support from the Biden administration, the biopharma industry and European countries — predominantly the UK, Germany and Switzerland — have remained firmly opposed to the waiver. Pfizer went so far as to call it a “distraction” and Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said it wouldn’t help supply any more mRNA vaccines over the next two years.
Even some prominent Democrats are now raising doubts about the waiver too.
Gary Locke, former Commerce Secretary and ambassador to China under the Obama administration, told Endpoints via email, “The proposed TRIPS waiver would do nothing to expand mRNA manufacturing capacity. Every scientist and company that knows how to make the vaccines is already working to scale production. And every facility on earth that can safely and reliably produce shots is doing so.”
He also said he didn’t think the US should give away its taxpayer-funded mRNA research to countries like China as that could “jeopardize American economic competitiveness.”
But nonprofits like Public Citizen have called on the US government to start building new sites and retrofitting older ones to make more vaccines.
“A $25 billion investment in vaccine production by the US government would produce enough vaccine for low- and middle-income countries in one year,” the group says.
Locke agreed that wealthy nations “should focus on donating surplus Covid-19 vaccine doses to developing countries, while also investing in solutions to actually help distribute those doses. For example, The Democratic Republic of the Congo returned 1.3 million doses to COVAX, the global vaccination-sharing initiative, in part because it couldn’t get the doses into rural areas.”
Over the next two days, all eyes will be on the IP waiver, and whether it can actually ramp up vaccine supplies.
“I’m hoping, albeit not confident, the US will table some language/text in support of the India/South Africa’s waiver — even if it does not totally match the current revised waiver text. It will be needed to push the countries blocking to come with something more in line with a broader IP waiver,” Amin said.