Hopes rise for Covid vaccine patent waiver after key countries agree on proposal

The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) most powerful members said on Tuesday that they had agreed on a proposed waiver on intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines in the hopes of speeding up rollouts worldwide.

The proposal from the so-called Quad (the European Union, India, South Africa and the United States) will still have to go to the full council, but China has indicated it is prepared to vote in favour. If passed, it could allow developing world countries to manufacture Covid vaccines without paying Pfizer, Moderna and other pharmaceutical companies licenses.

WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has made vaccine equity her top priority since taking office in 2021. She has been working for months to broker a compromise after an 18-month-long impasse.

“What the discussions were aiming at was coming up with something workable,” Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters, saying she hoped the WTO’s 164 members would finalise and approve the proposal by June.

“This will advance the discussion and dialogue. For the next pandemic or a flare-up of this one, this is hugely important," lei disse.

Vaccination rates in wealthy countries are now between 70% e 90%, and many are discussing a fourth round of injections. But in poorer countries vaccination rates remain low, due to cost and lack of supply. Più di 30 countries have vaccinated less than 10% of their population, according to the Multilateral Leaders Taskforce on Covid-19.

The pharmaceutical industry has lobbied against the move and other critics have charged that waiving patents will still not solve vaccine inequity in the short-term because manufacturing and supply issues will remain.

The document showed that there were still unresolved areas in the draft deal, including on the duration of the waiver’s application which could be either three or five years.

Okonjo-Iweala said recent negotiations had focused on getting broader support for the deal, including from China. She said Beijing had indicated it was “favourably disposed” to being considered as a developed country in this deal and thus subject to stricter rules. The Chinese mission to the WTO in Geneva did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reuters contributed to this article.

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