WTO Meeting Pits Rich Against Poor In Fight For Vaccines

WTO Meeting Pits Rich Against Poor In Fight For Vaccines

Poorer countries say intellectual property laws are exacerbating the pandemic, but wealthy countries won’t budge.

Rich vs. Poor at WTO General Meeting

Poorer countries are bringing a fight for equal access to coronavirus vaccines to the World Trade Organization today, as rich countries like the United Kingdom and United States begin rolling out vaccines to their residents.

South Africa and India are leading a group of low- and middle-income countries calling for a waiver on intellectual property rights on products related to the pandemic—including personal protective equipment, therapeutics, and vaccines. China has also backed the measure.

Rich countries and entities such as the United States and the European Union oppose the move, claiming that IP rights are not the hurdle they are made out to be, since voluntary licensing and global facilities like COVAX can help poorer countries meet their needs effectively.

Empty shelves. High-income countries may find the issue less urgent since they have already bought up the majority of the global supply of vaccines (as well as funded their development in many cases). A New York Times analysis found that based on current purchasing agreements, the European Union could vaccinate its residents twice, Britain and the United States could do so four times over, and Canada six times over.

No silver bullet. Mustaqeem De Gama, a counsellor at the South African Permanent Mission to the WTO and a coauthor of today’s proposal, said the waiver is necessary to combat a broken system.