The only surefire way to end the suffering caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is through mass vaccinations of the majority of the global population. It is quite remarkable how quickly multiple efficient vaccines have been developed. However, due to global intellectual property disputes, only a few countries have been able to secure enough doses to start inoculating their citizens – such as the UK, the US, and other nations in the EU and Global North.
This is due, in large part, to provisions such as those in the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of the Intellectual Property Rights) Agreement whereby manufacturers in several low and middle-income countries can license the methods for vaccine development and produce affordable but effective alternatives for people in those nations. The current statistics show that 80% of all supplies for COVID-19 vaccines are limited to 10 countries, an incredibly inequitable consequence. According to the British Medical Journal, at least nine-tenths of people in 67 low-income countries stand a minute chance of receiving any vaccine in 2021. This is especially alarming as nations like Canada have secured four times as many doses per capita they require.
A possible solution to this problem was presented to the World Trade Organisation by India and South Africa – a temporary waiver on provisions relating to intellectual property rights to allow poorer countries the ability to bypass the lengthy logistical processes with regards to facilitating technology transfers to help them manufacture vaccines and other medical interventions. However, this proposal, though supported by up to 100 countries, was blocked by the likes of the EU, Canada, the UK, the US and other high-income states.
Thus, it is imperative that issues with regards to global intellectual property agreements take centre stage in policy discussions going forward as a result of the pandemic.