Nearly half a year after the first Covid‑19 vaccines became available on the market, they remain in short supply. In October 2020, India and South Africa submitted a proposal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive intellectual property rights related to the prevention, containment or treatment of Covid‑19 during the pandemic. The application proposes that the waiver should continue until the majority of the world’s population has been immunized against the virus. A decision in the WTO Council would have to be unanimous. In the meantime, the US has announced its support for the initiative; nevertheless, there are also powerful dissenting voices.
With their proposal, India and South Africa are undoubtedly pursuing objectives that deserve support as such. An effective response to the pandemic indeed requires “rapid access to affordable medical products” and global cooperation. Yet a waiver of all intellectual property rights regulated within the framework of the TRIPS Agreement is unlikely to be a necessary or a suitable measure towards the pursued objectives.
“Requiring patents on Covid‑19 vaccines to be suspended would not only fail to provide relief from the current vaccine shortage, it would even be a highly dangerous experiment”, says Reto M. Hilty, Director of the Institute and Lead of a Research Group that has examined among other things how intellectual property rights affect the production and distribution of vaccines and medicines against Covid‑19 and what impact these rights can have on their prices.
In a Position Statement, the group summarized ten arguments why intellectual property rights so far have played an enabling rather than hindering role in overcoming the pandemic and why the international community will not benefit from a waiver either during or after the pandemic.
The full text of the Position Statement is available here.
A brief summary of the arguments can be found here.
Signing the Position Statement
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