GENEVA (Reuters) – Doctors Without Borders (MSF) staged a protest at the World Trade Organization on Thursday against what it said was the rich world’s reluctance to waive patents and allow more production of COVID-19 vaccines for poorer nations.
Activists seeking a waiver of intellectual property rules unfurled a huge sign reading “No COVID Monopolies – Wealthy Countries Stop Blocking TRIPS Waiver” in the park next to WTO’s headquarters on Lake Geneva.
They want the terms of the TRIPS agreement — the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property — to be overridden to allow generic or other manufactures to make the new products.
WTO member states hold fresh talks next week on a proposal by India and South Africa to waive such rules for COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.
“If we had the waiver, we’d be able in a number of countries to scale up production right now, which would allow for the diagnostics, the medicines, and the vaccines to get where they’re needed most,” Stephen Cornish, general director of MSF Switzerland, told Reuters at the WTO.
“Right now we are seeing just a trickle of vaccines making it to the global South, and this is just not acceptable in today’s world,” he said.
Some 100 countries now support the campaign, Cornish added.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), backed the move in a tweet on Thursday: “If a temporary waiver to patents cannot be issued now, during these unprecedented times, when will be the right time?”
“Big Pharma” has rejected the proposal that would grant compulsory licensing by overriding patent rules. Britain, Switzerland and the United States, which have strong domestic pharmaceutical industries, have opposed a waiver.
“Rich countries, the EU, the US, Canada and Switzerland … are blocking that derogation. And they are doing so in the name of profit and business and status quo instead of putting human lives above profit,” Cornish said.
Globally, 265 million doses of vaccines have been administered, with 80% in just 10 countries, WHO’s top emergency expert Mike Ryan said on social media on Wednesday night.
He welcomed the first roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines this week through the COVAX facility that aims to provide doses to lower income countries, starting in Ivory Coast.
Nearly 10 million doses have been delivered in more than 10 countries, he said, adding: “That’s a huge step forward in terms of at least beginning the journey towards better vaccine equity around the world.”
(additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by William Maclean)