The wealthy vs. developing countries’ scuffle over patent rights to COVID-19 vaccines has intensified at the World Trade Organization this week.
South Africa and India are leading a bloc of mostly developing countries pushing to waive WTO intellectual property agreements to allow more manufacturers to make big-name vaccine formulas.
But: Rich Western countries like the US and the UK—home to pharma giants—oppose the move.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala urged countries to act fast on this “vitally important” decision that could ramp up production in emerging markets.
Rich Countries Could Donate Surplus Doses
Over the next 1-2 years, rich countries may have enough surplus doses to immunize everyone in poorer nations lacking vaccines.
Last year, dozens of rich countries hedged their bets and pre-purchased vaccine candidates in development. Now, most of those have been proven efficacious, setting the stage for massive surpluses.
The extra vaccines could be a major boost but getting them into arms could mean a lengthy process fraught with regulatory, logistical, and liability hurdles.
Smart Move: Donate the vaccine before it leaves the factory, says Gian Gandhi, COVAX coordinator at UNICEF: “We get into problems if it’s a dose that’s sitting in a central storage facility in Berlin or Paris or London.”