Call for waiver of Covid-19 vaccine patents to help poor nations

GENEVA • Doctors Without Borders (MSF) staged a protest at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) against what it said was the rich world's reluctance to waive patents and allow more production of Covid-19 vaccines for poorer nations.

Activists seeking a waiver of intellectual property rules unfurled a huge sign reading "No COVID Monopolies - Wealthy Countries Stop Blocking TRIPS Waiver" in the park next to the WTO's headquarters on Lake Geneva on Thursday.

They want the terms of the Trips agreement (the WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property) to be overridden to allow generic or other manufacturers to make the new products.

WTO member states hold fresh talks this week on a proposal by India and South Africa to waive such rules for Covid-19 drugs and vaccines.

"If we had the waiver, we'd be able in a number of countries to scale up production right now, which would allow for the diagnostics, the medicines and the vaccines to get where they're needed most," Mr Stephen Cornish, general director of MSF Switzerland, told Reuters.

"Right now, we are seeing just a trickle of vaccines making it to the global South and this is just not acceptable in today's world," he said, adding that some 100 countries now support the campaign.

World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus backed the move in a tweet on Thursday: "If a temporary waiver to patents cannot be issued now, during these unprecedented times, when will be the right time?"

"Big Pharma" has rejected the proposal that would grant compulsory licensing by overriding patent rules. Britain, Switzerland and the United States, which have strong domestic pharmaceutical industries, have opposed a waiver.

Globally, 265 million doses of vaccines have been administered, with 80 per cent in just 10 countries, WHO's top emergency expert Mike Ryan said on social media on Wednesday night. He welcomed the first roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines last week through the Covax facility that aims to provide doses to lower-income countries, starting in Ivory Coast.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 07, 2021, with the headline 'Call for waiver of Covid-19 vaccine patents to help poor nations'. Subscribe