India and South Africa have proposed that WTO member states be allowed to waive patents and other intellectual property (IP) rights on any treatments and tools related to Covid-19 until the end of the pandemic, including for the Moderna and Pfizer/BionNTech vaccines that are expected to be approved for use in the coming weeks.
If the waiver were adopted, it would allow manufacturers to begin producing Covid-19 vaccines, treatments, diagnostics and any others tools used to fight the disease without fear of being sued or prosecuted.
“You would open your knowledge, data and patents to all the manufacturers around the world who could possibly do this,” said Roz Scourse, a policy adviser with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Those opposing the move include the UK, US, Canada, Australia and the EU – all of which have reserved billions of doses of potential vaccines through bilateral deals. The global supply of Covid-19 vaccines is likely to be far short of what is required until at least 2024, constrained by limited manufacturing capacity and countries hoarding doses, a study by Duke University in the US said this month. Governments in mostly wealthy states have already reserved more than 3.7bn doses, with negotiations under way for at least another 5bn.
Pharmaceutical companies have received unprecedented taxpayer funding – including $2.5bn (£1.88bn) to Pfizer/BioNTech, $2.48bn to Moderna and $1.7bn to the AstraZeneca/Oxford University candidate – yet retain control over who receives the vaccine, when, and over the price and quantities.