Covid-19 vaccines (representative image). Photograph:( Reuters )
In October last year, India and South Africa asked WTO to waive some provisions in a trade agreement. It would allow countries to waive off intellectual property rights on diagnostics, medicines and vaccines. It would have been a temporary measure to control the pandemic but rich countries want to make profits from the pandemic
Patents are slowing the vaccinations down. Since last year, India and South Africa have been pushing for a ban on vaccine patents. Only to be stonewalled by the rich countries. A last-ditch attempt is now underway to unlock the vaccine patents.
The world's leading powers are struggling as they are at the mercy of vaccine makers. The supply of shots has been slow as there aren't enough vials to go around.
More than seven billion people are to be vaccinated but only a handful of companies can produce vaccines.
The reason is vaccine patents. Only companies with patents can produce vaccines as their numbers are limited, so is their capacity.
Why can't more vaccine makers produce the coronavirus shot?
India and South Africa are pushing for it. They want a temporary waiver on vaccine patents. India and South Africa have moved a proposal at the World Trade Organisation but it did not find many takers.
In October last year, India and South Africa asked WTO to waive some provisions in a trade agreement. It would allow countries to waive off intellectual property rights on diagnostics, medicines and vaccines. It would have been a temporary measure to control the pandemic but rich countries want to make profits from the pandemic. This month, they blocked this proposal as they are also hoarding vaccines. They made millions of pre-orders and now, they don't want to share the patent.
The list includes the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. They have all opposed the proposal. They say it would stifle innovation.
A patent ban would rob big pharma companies of the incentive to make huge investments in research and development. So, is the proposal dead? Not yet.
India and South Africa along with other co-sponsors are now reaching out to WTO members individually. Reports say, the outline, scope and time frame for the patent waiver is being discussed.
The race to grab vaccines has divided the world. These divisions are showing at the WTO too.
Developed countries like Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom and Switzerland are saying they will not back the patent waiver while the developing world supports it.
Countries that still need their share of shots are co-sponsoring India and South Africa's proposal. It includes Bolivia, Eswatini, Kenya, Egypt, Mozambique, Mongolia, Pakistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
Reports say a final call on the proposal may be taken this month. This decision will dictate for how long humanity will have to fight the coronavirus. The more vaccines we have, the sooner the pandemic will end.