After an effort of almost two years, involving scores of high-level meetings and much political pressure the WTO (World Trade Organization) approved an important deal on Friday to dilute intellectual property restrictions for the manufacture of Covid-19 vaccines
During a meeting in Geneva, the WTO ministers approved a package of agreements that involved the vaccine patent waiver, which Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala previously said was essential to end the morally unacceptable inequity of access to Covid-19 vaccines.
The WTO’s last-minute deal secured an overnight negotiating session in Geneva. This is an important victory for the vaccine alliance by Okonjo-Iweala, the former head of Gavi, who actively campaigned for the deal during her first year as the WTO’s top trade official.
However, the deal brings a vital blow to vaccine manufacturers such as Moderna Inc., Pfizer Inc., and AstraZeneca Plc, who fought hard to prevent nations from undermining the intellectual-property framework that allowed them to harvest multiple viable Covid-19 vaccines in record time saving countless lives across the world.
Thomas Cueni, the director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations said, the premise of an intellectual-property waiver for Covid-19 vaccines was flawed from the onset. He further added that to this day there is no evidence that IP has been a barrier to Covid-19 vaccine access or production.
The debate overcame an extended fight between the US and China over the Biden administration’s demand that China be excluded from the deal for fear that it would enable China to steal US technologies.
Vaccine glut makes WTO waiver unnecessary tool to fight Covid-19
Vaccines have become a crisis for trade protectionism and many US policymakers would want to prevent China from gaining access to the mRNA technology that Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech SE used to produce Covid-19 vaccinations.
Though the Biden government supported the idea of waiving IP rights for a vaccine, it never displayed full support for the deal until it emerged in Geneva. The deal is likely to result in heavy political blowback from the US pharmaceutical sector and from Republican lawmakers who could oppose it.
Earlier during the month, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai found herself targeted by her former Capitol Hill colleagues for negotiating a back-room deal that many lawmakers speculated would undermine American innovation.
Eventually, as there is a global gut in the vaccines, the negotiation took a long time and the worldwide vaccine manufacturing effort worked so fast that the WTO’s final deal will not have a meaningful impact on the production of Covid-19 vaccines.
According to data from the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, for the month of May, there were 2.1 billion excess doses of Covid-19 vaccines and their production has consistently outperformed the number of doses administered.
Chad Brown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics stated that there is no longer a supply-side constraint on the availability of vaccines.