The World Trade Organization chief Thursday “warmly” welcomed the US’ readiness to engage in a temporary intellectual property agreements waiver to help in combating COVID-19 and hailed the decision by India and South African to revise a WTO proposal on this.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala issued a statement the day after US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said that President Joe Biden’s administration supported the idea of a temporary lifting of intellectual property protection.
The proposal for a temporary waiver of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) accord was put forward at the WTO last year by India and South Africa.
“We need to respond urgently to COVID-19 because the world is watching, and people are dying,” said Ngozi.
“I am pleased that the proponents are preparing a revision to their proposal, and I urge them to put this on the table as soon as possible so that text-based negotiations can commence. It is only by sitting down together that we will find a pragmatic way forward, acceptable to all members.”
Ngozi said such an agreement should enhance “developing countries’ access to vaccines while protecting and sustaining the research and innovation so vital to the production of these life-saving vaccines.”
EU ‘ready to discuss’ waiver on COVID-19 vaccine patents
The EU is “ready to discuss how the US proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines could help” end the crisis, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Thursday.
The plan for a waiver is believed to have the backing of around 60 WTO members, including Bolivia, Egypt, Eswatini, Kenya, Mozambique, Pakistan, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, the African Group, and the Least Developed Countries Group.
Countries such as Switzerland, Japan, and Australia had opposed the waiver proposal, arguing that while patents and intellectual property play a role, they do not enable countries to produce products such as vaccines.
An example of this came from the Africa region Thursday.
The World Health Organization said that with Africa-bound COVID-19 vaccine doses from the Serum Institute of India delayed for the foreseeable future, slow vaccine rollouts, and new variants making inroads, the risk of a new wave of infections in Africa remain high.
Delays and shortages of vaccine supplies are driving African countries to slip further behind the rest of the world in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and the continent now accounts for only 1% of the vaccines administered worldwide, down from 2% a few weeks ago.
Initial deliveries through the global vaccine-sharing facility COVAX to 41 African nations have been staggered since early March, yet nine countries have administered less than a quarter of their doses, and 15 countries have given less than half. Eight countries have provided all of their COVAX jabs.
“While we call for vaccine equity, Africa must also knuckle down and make the best of what we have. We must get all the doses we have into people’s arms,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.
“It’s a race against time and the virus. Given the limited supply, we recommend that countries prioritize giving the first dose to as many high-risk people as possible in the shortest amount of time.”