WTO Waiver from Intellectual Property Protection for COVID-19 Vaccines and Treatments: A Critical Review
Virginia Journal of International Law Online (Forthcoming 2021)
25 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2021 Last revised: 11 Apr 2021
Date Written: February 12, 2021
In view of the increasing concern over global efforts to ensure equitable access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines, India and South Africa presented a proposal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in October 2020 seeking a waiver of intellectual property rights (IPRs) in order to increase access to vaccines or other COVID-19 related technologies. The proposal seeks to waive IPRs that could relate to and impact the “prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19 … until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed an immunity.” While the proposal has attracted support from some WTO Members and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), it has also proven to be contentious and has not been endorsed by all WTO Members. This article reviews the justifications put forward for the proposal before presenting counterarguments that the waiver is unnecessary, would not alleviate the burden of access to effective and affordable medicines and vaccines and could potentially hamper R&D and innovation in the pharmaceutical sector.
Keywords: intellectual property, TRIPS, international trade, WTO, development, waiver, COVID-19, access to medicines
JEL Classification: K30, K33, I18, O10, O19, O34, O38
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation