WTO agrees to lift COVID vaccine patents


World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (C) delivers her speech during the closing session of a World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference at the WTO headquarters in Geneva on early June 17, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

The World Trade Organization agreed Friday to temporarily lift patents on COVID-19 vaccines after two years of bruising negotiations, but experts expressed skepticism that the deal will have a major impact on global vaccination inequality.

The unprecedented agreement, sealed by all 164 WTO members after late-night overtime talks, will grant developing countries the right to produce COVID vaccines for five years “without the consent of the right holder”.

Since October 2020, South Africa and India have called for intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines to be temporarily lifted so they can boost production to address the gaping inequality in access between rich and poor nations.

But Friday’s compromise fell short of their earlier requests that the waiver applies to all countries, and also cover COVID tests and treatments.

Under the terms of the new deal, WTO members have six months to decide on whether to extend the measures “to cover the production and supply of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics”.

“This does not correspond to the initial request,” said Jerome Martin, the co-founder of the Drug Policy Transparency Observatory, pointing to the fact that the deal only includes developing countries.

“We have to see what it does in the field, but it is not ambitious at all,” he told AFP.

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