Patent waiver not enough for COVID-19 vaccine rollout: WTO chief

Cropped hand wearing a nitrile glove holding a Covid-19 vaccine vial and a syringe

World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on Thursday argued in favor of expanding COVID-19 vaccine production and ending export restrictions, saying that getting a patent waiver would not be enough.

She said this when answering a question on what measures are needed to accelerate equitable access to vaccines during a meeting of the European Parliament’s Committee on Trade.

“Getting the Intellectual Property (IP) rights waiver for vaccines will not be enough,” she said.

Okonjo-Iweala listed three other routes, namely, reducing export restrictions and reinforcing supply chains for vaccines, working with manufacturers to expand production, and transferring the necessary technology and expertise to produce the complicated vaccines.

“The IP waiver is a hot issue on which I cannot take sides. But we need more flexibility and automatic access for developing countries, and at the same time we have to protect research and development,” added the WTO chief.

The Trade Committee is set to discuss calls for patent waivers for COVID-19 vaccines on May 25.

No consensus was reached among the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on Wednesday regarding a proposal for a temporary waiver of patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines in a bid to speed up the global vaccine rollout. A resolution will be put to a vote at the European Parliament’s plenary session in June. Any decision on waiving IP rights will be taken by the WTO.