WTO's IP waiver for vaccines is out and the response is generally negative — from all sides
The member countries of the World Trade Organization negotiated late into last night, finally offering up a compromised and watered-down way for some low-income countries to waive the intellectual property around certain Covid-19 vaccine ingredients and manufacturing processes, potentially paving the way for compulsory licensing for these vaccines.
While only in effect initially for five years, the waiver would hypothetically allow low-income countries to bypass certain Pfizer and Moderna patents to produce more Covid-19 vaccines.
“The TRIPS waiver compromise will contribute to ongoing efforts to deconcentrate and diversify vaccine manufacturing capacity, so that a crisis in one region does not leave others cut off,” WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said in a speech today.
But the decision to allow the waiver — after more than a year of negotiations — comes at a time when countries like Switzerland and elsewhere are already having to dump millions of doses in the garbage because they can’t donate them before expiration. And it remains to be understood if any governments will actually seek to use this waiver in its current form.
Jamie Love, director of KEI who published an analysis on the waiver this morning, told Endpoints News he’s “pretty confident no one will” use the waiver right now, as it is “only an exception for exports under a compulsory license from developing countries minus China. There are no vaccines other than Moderna now using compulsory licenses.”
And while the text of the agreement “was actually improved a fair amount this week,” Love said, “it’s still mostly about precedent, and won’t have any effect for years if at all.”
Others who were advocating for the IP waiver initially, and wanted it to extend to therapeutics and other Covid-related medical products, and those who have been opposed to it the entire way (PhRMA and other industry groups), were not happy with the final result.
“Rather than focus on real issues affecting public health, like solving supply chain bottlenecks or reducing border tariffs on medicines, they approved an intellectual property waiver on Covid-19 vaccines that won’t help protect people against the virus,” PhRMA said in a statement this morning.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières similarly took issue with the waiver, saying in a statement, “The waiver that was agreed to contains a potentially harmful set of clarifications of the existing public health safeguards and a limited exception for the procedure of using compulsory licensing for export of Covid-19 vaccines by eligible countries for a duration of five years.”
US Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Center SVP Patrick Kilbride also added:
Misguided proposals to undermine intellectual property rights would set a harmful precedent without solving any of the actual problems preventing more widespread vaccination. Waiving intellectual property rights would only hobble the innovation that is critical to improving lives and raising living standards globally.