Renewed pressure for TRIPS waiver on COVID-19 vaccines comes from national and global health bodies

December 7, 2020: An Open Letter from the World Federation of Public Health Associations to the World Trade Organisation, the World Health Organisation, the World Intellectual Property Organisation and to the UN Secretary-General is aimed at a breakthrough on access to vaccines at the December 9 session of the TRIPS Council of the WTO. This follows a similar letter to the Australian Trade Minister from the Public Health Association of Australia, and a blog by Australian. public health experts  in Croakey.

South Africa and India are proposing a “waiver”, or temporary suspension of intellectual property rights of applicable knowledge to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many industrialised  countries, including Australia, have opposed the waiver at TRIPS Council meetings in October and November, thus making it clear that the waiver will not be adopted by consensus. Given this situation, at the next TRIPS Council meeting the developing nations representing approximately 80 per cent of the world’s population, will seek to obtain a favourable decision on this waiver through the vote of 75 per cent of the representative countries.

The proposed waiver seeks to waive the restrictions now suffered by lower and middle income countries to have timely affordable access under competitive market conditions to COVID-19 diagnostic kits, medical devices such as respirators and particularly vaccines and medicines to combat the virus.

The Open Letter pointed out that 80 per cent of the COVID-19 vaccine doses that can be produced in 2021 have already been committed to high-income countries which account for 20 per cent of the world’s population.

“Large inequities will be created as high vaccine prices will result in significant financial sacrifices for these countries, many which are already heavily in debt,” wrote Professor Walter Ricciardi, WFPHA President.

“We join over 300 non-governmental organizations that have expressed their support for this proposed waiver of temporary suspension of intellectual property rights as have international organizations such as the WHO, UNAIDS, the South Center, UNICEF, UNITAID, and DNDi,” said the letter.