Activists Say WTO Deal on Vaccine Patents Is “Sham” Dictated by Rich Nations

The World Trade Organization’s 12th Ministerial Conference ended Friday with an agreement on patent rights that campaigners said would do virtually nothing to address vast global inequities in coronavirus vaccine and treatment access, a failure they attributed to relentless obstruction by rich countries and the pharmaceutical industry.

After marathon negotiations, the narrow deal clarifies governments’ ability to use compulsory licensingTo increase vaccine production without the consent from patent-holding pharmaceutical firms. Temporarily, the agreement removes restrictions from exporting vaccines manufactured under compulsory licenses.

The final text, which is set to remain in effect for a period of five years, drew furious responses from public health advocates who slammed the deal as a product of a fundamentally unequal process that saw rich nations — acting on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry — dictate the outcome with minimal regard for developing countries. Anna Marriott, Oxfam International’s conference attendee, was one of the furious responses. saidShe heard that some national delegations didn’t even get to see the text before it had been adopted by the WTO.

“The conduct of rich countries at the WTO has been utterly shameful,” said Max Lawson, co-chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance. “The E.U. “The E.U. has blocked any attempt to create a meaningful waiver of intellectual property. Negotiations have been used by the U.K., Switzerland to make any text worse. And the U.S. has sat silently in negotiations with red lines designed to limit the impact of any agreement.”

“This so-called compromise largely reiterates developing countries’ existing rights to override patents in certain circumstances,” Lawson added. “And it tries to restrict even that limited right to countries which do not already have capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines. Put simply, it is a technocratic fudge aimed at saving reputations, not lives.”

The WTO’s limited agreement is a far cry from the original patent waiver that India and South Africa introduced 20 months ago, in the early stages of a pandemic that has taken more than 15 million lives worldwide. The coronavirus has claimed the lives of an estimated 50,000 people worldwide. estimatedOn average, 30,000 people per day have seen their proposal since October 2020 when South Africa (India) and South Africa (South Africa) launched it.

The two nations’ waiver plan was backed by more than 100 WTO member countries, but rich governments derailed every attempted advancement of the text, offering alternatives that would leave in place — and even bolster — intellectual property restrictions that have hindered vaccine production throughout the pandemic. The pharmaceutical industry has been a major contributor to the pandemic. huge profitsThroughout the deadly pandemic, also lobbied aggressively against India and South Africa’s proposed waiver.

Only 18% of low-income people have received at most one coronavirus vaccination dose to date.

“Once again, the shameful, undemocratic WTO process allowed rich countries representing corporate interests to strongarm a sham agreement that bears no resemblance to the original waiver proposal and will do nothing to help save lives for this or future pandemics,” said Melinda St. Louis, Global Trade Watch director at Public Citizen. “The worldwide movement that supported countries in the Global South that proposed a comprehensive TRIPS waiver, and fought valiantly for nearly two years, will not throw in the towel just because WTO members decided to today.”

Dr. Christos Christou, international president of Doctors Without Borders, added that while “a few changes were made” to an earlier draft text that advocates panned, the final agreement “fails overall to offer an effective and meaningful solution to help increase people’s access to needed medical tools during the pandemic as it does not adequately waive intellectual property on all essential COVID-19 medical tools, and it does not apply to all countries.”

“The measures outlined in the decision,” Christou added, “will not address pharmaceutical monopolies or ensure affordable access to lifesaving medical tools and will set a negative precedent for future global health crises and pandemics.”