Some civil society groups expressed hope the proposal would be approved after U.S. President Joe Biden's top trade official, Katherine Tai, said last month that gaping inequities in access to COVID-19 vaccines between developed and developing countries were "completely unacceptable,” and that mistakes made in the global response to the HIV pandemic mustn't be repeated.
The argument, part of a long-running debate about intellectual property protections, centers on lifting patents, copyrights, and protection of industrial design and confidential information to help expand the production and deployment of vaccines during supply shortages. The aim is to suspend the rules for several years, just long enough to beat down the pandemic.
The issue has become more pressing with a surge in cases in India, the world’s second-most populous country and a key producer of vaccines, including one based on Western technology.
Proponents, including the World Health Organization chief, note that such waivers are part of the WTO toolbox and insist there’s no better time to use them than during a once-in-a-century pandemic that has taken 3.2 million lives, infected more than 437 million people and devastated economies across the globe.
Opponents say a waiver would be no panacea. They insist that production of COVID-19 vaccines is complex and simply can’t be ramped up by easing intellectual property and say lifting protections could hurt future innovation.