The EU has been blocking the global waiver of production rights for vaccines and medicines against Covid-19 for more than 17 months now. A document of the negations in the World Trade Organisation has now been leaked, which shows the EU’s continued reluctance to change its position. AK EUROPA as well as civil society organisations are again urging the EU to waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19-relevant vaccines, medicines, and health technologies.
So far, over 18 million people worldwide have died of Coronavirus, most of them in the countries of the Global South. While over 70 percent of the population in high-income countries were fully vaccinated by early 2022, it was less than five percent in low-income countries. Hence, the lack of vaccines and health equality represent the pandemic management’s greatest failure worldwide and shows the world’s deep social and economic division.
In October 2020, India and South Africa had already proposed within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to waive certain provisions of the “Agreement on the trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS)” to enable the prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19. This so-called “TRIPS waiver” for example includes the suspension of patent rights on Covid-19 vaccines. This would enable WTO member states to suspend TRIPS obligations for the duration of the pandemic and would protect the vaccine production of countries such as South Africa or India against WTO disputes initiated by richer countries. An increase in manufacturing capacities in more countries would enable the worldwide security of supply of medicines, vaccines, or so-called generics at an affordable price. The EU Parliament also voted in favour of the proposal in a resolution in June 2021 and called on the EU Commission to support the TRIPS waiver, which negotiates on behalf of the EU.
Mid-March 2022, an interim result of the quadrilateral discussions between the EU, the United States, South Africa and India in the WTO had been leaked to the press. This falls far behind the original proposal for the TRIPS waiver and continues to put obstacles in the way of a secure pharmaceutical supply production in the Global South. For this reason, the AK EUROPA and other civil society organisations are urging the EU “not to put any undue pressure on the Members of the World Trade Organisation” to support this poor negotiation result. The assessment of the public appeal: the EU and the United States have watered down the original TRIPS waiver to such an extent that the now available preliminary agreement would be even worse than no agreement. Therefore, it should be rejected. According to Doctors Without Borders, Medico International, et al, the preliminary agreement is mainly a reiteration of existing far too narrow exemptions, which fail to lift those barriers that stand in the way of increased vaccine production. It is particularly problematic that in contrast to the original proposal, only Covid-19 vaccines shall be included – medicines and test kits shall remain barred from the patent waiver. Furthermore, the usability of patents has been made more complicated. For example, the release of important study results on Covid-19 medicines and vaccines (so-called “undisclosed information”) has been left out from the present counter proposal. In addition, difficult admission criteria may exclude numerous low- and middle-income countries from production, supply, export and import.
The risk of Covid mutations is global and clearly demonstrates the need of fair access to vaccines. Hence, the global gap in the supply chain of essential medicines and vaccines must be met with a worldwide increase of production rights and capacities. Thus, the EU Commission has been urged by AK EUROPA, ETUC and other civil society organisation to go back to the objectives of the original TRIPS-Waiver proposal by India and South Africa. The waiver of patent rights should not only apply to vaccinations but must also include therapeutics and diagnostics. Apart from that, production facilities in the Global South have to be expanded and supported by the unrestricted transfer of knowledge. Only then will it be possible to tackle Covid-19 and future pandemics in solidarity.