By acting on behalf of pharmaceutical interests and blocking WTO removal of intellectual property (IP) barriers to global vaccines, tests, and treatment access, the European Union, Switzerland and United Kingdom have betrayed the billions of people worldwide who still need access to lifesaving vaccines, medications, and diagnostics. In failing to deliver on a vaccine waiver for which it announced support and blocking the inclusion of treatments and tests, the United States has also turned its back on a planet desperate for the COVID pandemic to end. The failure to temporarily waive the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as demanded by the vast majority of the world’s countries and by public health experts and health workers, generic medicine manufacturers, human rights advocates, faith leaders, labor unions, community groups, scores of Nobel laureates and former heads of state, the World Health Organization Director-General and even the Pope spotlights just how broken and dangerously out-of-touch the WTO remains.
Two years into the pandemic, the trade rules that pose barriers to scaling up production of the vaccines, medicines, tests and other health products we dearly need have not been addressed, highlighting the need for an automatic mechanism to suspend problematic rules when a pandemic, other public health emergencies of international concern, or other exceptional circumstances arise, rather than leaving it to the murky politics of the World Trade Organization. On 15 March, the European Commission (EC) finally admitted that intellectual property rules pose a threat to vaccine access globally. The counterproposal that was leaked to the press is attributed to the quad of USA, the EC, India and South Africa, but only reflects positions from USA and the EC.
A small team of Texas researchers is being hailed for developing an unpatented Covid-19 vaccine to share with the world without personal profit, with some advocates asking, if they can do it, why can't Big Pharma? Dubbed "the World's Covid vaccine," the inoculation—formally called Cobervax—is an open-source alternative to Big Pharma's patent-protected vaccines. Instead of being produced for profit, this shot could ultimately be manufactured around the world and made cheaply available to all without governmental or private legal retribution. Common Dreams reported this week that Cobervax—developed jointly by Texas Children's Hospital, Houston's Baylor College, and the Indian pharmaceutical company Biological E. Limited—was authorized for emergency use in India amid a surge in infections driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
On November 26, as news of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 stoked alarm around the world, the White House released a statement calling on countries to support an intellectual property waiver for Covid-19 vaccines. “I call on the nations gathering next week for the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting to meet the U.S. challenge to waive intellectual property protections for Covid vaccines, so these vaccines can be manufactured globally,” said President Joe Biden. “I endorsed this position in April; this news today reiterates the importance of moving on this quickly.” However, this public statement, which garnered numerous headlines, stands in stark contrast with what the Biden administration did — or did not do — behind closed doors at the WTO on November 29.
"Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity.” Louis Pasteur said that in 1876. Today it would be more accurate to say that science belongs to the corporations and investors that have the money, power, and savvy to secure patents and bring new developments to global markets, a change that threatens human and planetary health. As illustrated by the pharmaceutical industry’s windfall profits despite its failure to date to get Covid-19 vaccines to the poorest nations and the poorest in wealthy nations, Pasteur’s observation that bringing science to the world is “the highest personification of the nation” now seems aspirational at best.