Explainer: Waiver of the WTO’s Intellectual Property Rules: Facts vs. Common Myths

To End the COVID-19 Pandemic...

The World Needs an Emergency Waiver of WTO Monopoly Protections for Big Pharma

For more than a year, numerous countries, the World Health Organization, civil society organizations and unions worldwide, the Pope, scores of Nobel laureates and former heads of state have demanded a temporary waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property (IP) barriers that limit supply of the COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests needed to end the pandemic. The waiver proposal, first initiated by South Africa and India in October 2020, now has the support of more than 100 nations. But because the European Union, Switzerland and the UK are blocking it, the proposal has never been adopted. In November 2021, the WTO was forced to postpone its Ministerial Conference (MC12) after a new, concerning variant, omicron, emerged. WTO member countries’ failure to enact a waiver has contributed to the dangerous situation of only 8% of the population in low-income countries receiving at least one COVID shot, while 65% in rich countries have. In addition to causing avoidable deaths and economic devastation, the shortage of COVID medications in developing countries means raging outbreaks that allow the virus to mutate into new variants, such as omicron.

That the COVID-19 public health disaster and resulting economic crises won’t end anywhere unless people everywhere arevaccinated already was made painfully clear as the delta variant fueled new waves of infection and death around the globe during much of 2021. Governments invested billions to create vaccines. But there is still a shortage, with no end in sight as children are being vaccinated and adults in developed nations receive boosters. Meanwhile, the omicron COVID wave spotlighted the shortage of tests, as U.S. President Biden’s promise to make more tests publicly available ran into the reality that not enough are being produced to deliver the needed volume for months. Yet, the treatments now receiving emergency authorization require more testing, as they are to be used within five days of a COVID infection’s detection.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that ending the pandemic will require more production of vaccines, treatments and tests, Big Pharma is leading a global campaign to ensure a few corporations maintain monopoly control over production, distribution and supply. A waiver of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) rules could help boost the needed production and supply worldwide.

Translate »