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Experts and activists demand more generous vaccine waivers

Over a year after India and South Africa called for emergency measures, WTO members have proposed a plan to waive patents on COVID-19 vaccines

Pressure is building on President Cyril Ramaphosa to reject a compromise proposal offered by the United States and the European Union for a temporary waiver of intellectual property (IP) on Covid-19 vaccines (AC Vol 63 No 7, Vaccine patent negotiators agree compromise formula).

Over 300 civic activists, trades unions, academics, and experts from across the world, including economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz wrote to India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ramaphosa describing the leaked text on IP waivers 'inadequate' and 'a step backwards from an already untenable status quo.'

It is almost 18 months since India and South Africa asked the World Trade Organization to waive IP rights for medicines in the hope of aiding the 'prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19'.

South African and Indian officials joined the talks that led to the compromise text prepared by the US and EU, but Ramaphosa and his ministers are yet to comment on its contents.

The leaked text proposes that the waiver would cover IP rights only on vaccines but not on treatments for Covid-19. It also states that, within six months of a final agreement, WTO members must decide on whether to extend it to include Covid-19 diagnostics and therapeutics as well. For the moment, there is no timetable for a full WTO meeting to approve or reject the plan. It would require consensus support.

It also suggested that the agreement would be restricted to five years. The waiver would apply to those WTO members that exported less than 10% of the world's vaccine doses in 2021; that provision would mean the EU, China, and the US could not benefit from the waiver.

The proposal, despite its modesty, is opposed by the pharmaceutical conglomerates. The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) called 'on governments across Europe and around the world to urgently rethink discussions on a Covid vaccine waiver and instead focus on the real barriers to global vaccine equity'.

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