Responding to news that governments at the World Trade Organization (WTO) have agreed a deal on patents for COVID-19 vaccines in developing countries, Max Lawson, Co-Chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance and Head of Inequality Policy at Oxfam, said:
“This is absolutely not the broad intellectual property waiver the world desperately needs to ensure access to vaccines and treatments for everyone, everywhere. The EU, UK, US, and Switzerland blocked that text. This so-called compromise largely reiterates developing countries’ existing rights to override patents in certain circumstances. And it tries to restrict even that limited right to countries which do not already have capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines. Put simply, it is a technocratic fudge aimed at saving reputations, not lives.
“The conduct of rich countries at the WTO has been utterly shameful. The EU has blocked anything that resembles a meaningful intellectual property waiver. The UK and Switzerland have used negotiations to twist the knife and make any text even worse. And the US has sat silently in negotiations with red lines designed to limit the impact of any agreement.
“South Africa and India have led a twenty-month fight for the rights of developing countries to manufacture and access vaccines, tests, and treatments. It is disgraceful that rich countries have prevented the WTO from delivering a meaningful agreement on vaccines and have dodged their responsibility to take action on treatments while people die without them.
“There are some worrying new obligations in this text that could actually make it harder for countries to access vaccines in a pandemic. We hope that developing countries will now take bolder action to exercise their rights to override vaccine intellectual property rules and, if necessary, circumvent them to save lives.”
Notes to editors
Spokespeople are available for interviews in Geneva, where the WTO is hosting its 12th ministerial conference.
In October 2020, South Africa and India proposed a broad waiver of the Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement covering COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments. The EU, UK, and Switzerland blocked that proposal. The US supported an IP waiver for only vaccines. The final text agreed is a watered down waiver of one small clause of the TRIPS agreement relating to exports of vaccines. It also contains new barriers that are not in the original TRIPS agreement text.