320 medical experts call on Boris Johnson to support waiver on COVID19 vaccine monopolies
1 February, 2022: More than 320 scientists and public health experts in the UK have called on the British Government to support a waiver on vaccine patent monopolies at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which would allow low-income countries to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments for themselves.
The letter states that “the crisis posed by the Omicron variant is a stark warning of the dangers posed by global vaccine inequality,” a situation in which more than 3 billion people across the world have yet to receive their first dose of a vaccine.
“Thanks to remarkable scientific innovations, we have a number of vaccines that remain highly effective against all known COVID-19 variants. Yet, unless we share this technology with the world and increase global vaccination coverage, vaccines will not be effective at stopping new variants of concern.”
“We must use and expand domestic vaccine manufacturing and distribution capacity within low and middle-income countries. However, intellectual property rules and trade secrets remain a major barrier to this task.”
“We call on the UK government to support the temporary waiver of intellectual property rules under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement for Covid-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments at the WTO to scale up and diversify production of the tools needed to end this pandemic.”
The letter comes after the UK Government issued in December an official statement at the WTO declining to constructively engage in text-based negotiations on the ‘TRIPS waiver’, saying “there has been a persisting divergence of views” since the waiver was first proposed, and that “it remains evident that consensus does not yet exist on a way forward and certainly not on a broad scope IP rights waiver.” The UK delegation was of the view that “a TRIPS waiver proposal would not increase the number of vaccines reaching people’s arms” and that the proposal carries “risks” for future pandemics.
Writing in the British Medical Journal, however, public health experts and economists argue that a waiver on vaccine patent monopolies would not jeopardise future innovation, as “the link between profits and innovation is tenuous, and public sector contributions are already a major driving factor in much of the innovation that most benefits public health.”
The authors expect “no material fall in COVID-19 related profits for companies whose intellectual property rights are waived. Moreover, given 65 years of consistently high profits (and increasingly more so in recent decades), investors are unlikely to abandon pharmaceutical innovation because of loss of intellectual property rights in the exceptional circumstances related to COVID-19, so nor would we anticipate substantial loss of investment funds for research and development.”