Press Release: New WTO Text Wouldn’t Improve COVID Vaccine Access, Excludes Treatments, and Even Adds New Limits to Existing WTO Flexibilities Allowing Production of Drugs Without Patent Holder Permission

Washington, D.C. – The American Economic Liberties Project released the following statement in response to the submission of a text by the WTO’s Director General to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Council for discussion as an alternative to the waiver of WTO intellectual property barriers that block global access to needed supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests. More than 100 WTO countries support a waiver, while the European Union, UK and Switzerland have blocked progress. On May 5, 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden announced support for a waiver of WTO IP barriers for vaccines. The text submitted today was leaked in mid-March and was roundly criticized by generic medicine manufacturers, prominent academics, and public health experts around the world.

“This text would fail President Biden’s righteous mission of increasing access to vaccines to end the COVID crisis,” said Lori Wallach, Director of Rethink Trade at the American Economic Liberties Project. “Despite 100 countries supporting a waiver, this text does not suspend intellectual property barriers and even adds new conditions that undermine countries’ abilities to use existing WTO rules allowing production of medicines without patentholder permission.”

“It represents the lowest common denominator of EU fealty to Big Pharma by not waiving intellectual property monopolies and the U.S. insistence that only vaccines be considered despite the new lifesaving treatments that President Biden spotlights as critical to dealing with COVID.”

“The EU fealty to Big Pharma represented in this text is exposing the world to the risk of endless pandemic and ever-more-dangerous variants, and it could take down the WTO as collateral damage. How can it be that in the face of a global pandemic that has taken 15 million lives and destroyed billions more livelihoods, in two years the WTO cannot get out of the way of global access to medicines that governments paid pharmaceutical firms billions to develop and distribute?

“Instead of a waiver, this text reiterated existing WTO rules for patent compulsory licensing that are widely considered to be unsuited to the COVID mission and that fail to cover most forms of IP at all but then adds new limitations to that,” added Wallach.

Background: For much of the world, COVID-19 remains a daily ordeal. Less than 20% in developing nations have received initial shots thanks in no small part to absolute lack of supply during critical early months and then unpredictable delivery times and vaccines arriving close to expiration. And to this day, the most effective COVID-19 treatments remain unavailable in much of the world.

Now second-generation vaccines are being developed to protect people from being infected by recent variants. If the world repeats the grotesque inequity of access for the new vaccines and the most effective treatments, we know what will happen, because we just lived it with Delta and Omicron: Lack of timely global access to vaccines effective in stopping infection and to treatments shorten illness will cause millions of people to suffer in raging outbreaks, which will also foster the development of new variants that can evade the new generation of vaccines.

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To hear the views on this text from South African and other public health experts, listen to the recent Rethinking Trade episode ‘Drugs, COVID, the WTO and a Leaked Text.’

 For a detailed analysis of the text, please see ‘Draft WTO COVID Text Leaked 3/15 Wouldn’t Improve Vaccine Access and Altogether Excludes Treatments and Tests: Beware the Ides of March Indeed!’ 

Learn more about Economic Liberties and Rethink Trade


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