Why U.S. Support for the COVID IP Waiver Won't Solve the Vaccine Problem
A shortened and edited version of this letter was published in The Financial Times on May 12th 2021
2 Pages Posted: 8 Jul 2021
Date Written: April 1, 2021
Following Wednesday’s announcement by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai that the Biden-Harris Administration supports the suspension of intellectual property (IP) for COVID-19 vaccines, levels of optimism are understandably high that improved global access to coronavirus vaccines can be achieved in the foreseeable future. The swift follow-up announcement by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, stating that the EU is ready to discuss the U.S. proposal, at least shows that the momentum is there for further action.
At one level, this is a dramatic about-turn from the situation last October, when the original proposal by India and South Africa for a waiver of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) provisions on IP rights in the TRIPS Agreement was roundly opposed by high-income countries. Wealthy nations, including the U.S and those from the EU, had argued that a strong IP system is essential to incentivise new inventions of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments. Claims that IP is a barrier to accessing vaccines were dismissed and arguments were made that equitable access can be achieved instead through voluntary licensing, technology transfer arrangements, and the donor funded World Health Organisation (WHO) COVAX mechanism.
Yet there remains a long way to go before a global response to the coronavirus pandemic can truly be said to address the actual or potential problems associated with the IP system.
Keywords: Health Law, Life Science Law, COVID-19, Vaccinations
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