The U.S., Canada and U.K. are among some of the high-income countries actively blocking a patent-waiver proposal designed to boost the global production of Covid-19 vaccines, CNBC writes.
It comes as coronavirus cases worldwide surge to their highest level so far and the World Health Organization has repeatedly admonished a “shocking imbalance” in the distribution of vaccines amid the pandemic.
Members of the World Trade Organization will meet virtually in Geneva, Switzerland on Thursday to hold informal talks on whether to temporarily waive intellectual property and patent rights on Covid vaccines and treatments.
The landmark proposal, which was jointly submitted by India and South Africa in October, has been backed by more than 100 mostly developing countries. It aims to facilitate the manufacture of treatments locally and boost the global vaccination campaign.
Six months on, the proposal continues to be stonewalled by a small number of governments — including the U.S., EU, U.K., Switzerland, Japan, Norway, Canada, Australia and Brazil.
“In this Covid-19 pandemic, we are once again faced with issues of scarcity, which can be addressed through diversification of manufacturing and supply capacity and ensuring the temporary waiver of relevant intellectual property,” Dr. Maria Guevara, international medical secretary at Medecins Sans Frontieres, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“It is about saving lives at the end, not protecting systems.”
The urgency and importance of waiving certain intellectual property rights amid the pandemic have been underscored by the WHO, health experts, civil society groups, trade unions, former world leaders, international medical charities, Nobel laureates and human rights organizations.
The waiver, if adopted at the General Council, the WTO’s highest-level decision-making body, could help countries around the world overcome legal barriers preventing them from producing their own Covid vaccines and treatments.
Advocates of the proposal have conceded the waiver is not a “silver bullet,” but argue that removing barriers toward the development, production and approval of vaccines is vital in the fight to prevent, treat and contain the coronavirus.
Conversely, pharmaceutical industry trade associations are against the waiver.
In a statement published late last year, Thomas Cueni, director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, argued that diluting national and international intellectual property frameworks would be “dangerous and counterproductive.”
Instead, he argued the focus should be on science and innovation rather than “undoing the very system that supports it.”
To date, an average of one-in-four people in high-income nations has received a Covid vaccine, compared to one-in-over-500 for people in low-income countries.
At the current rate, the bulk of the adult population in advanced economies is expected to have been vaccinated against the virus by the middle of next year, whereas the timeline for poorer economies is likely to stretch to 2024, CNBC adds.