Should WTO’s COVID vaccine deal go beyond IP waiver?

Vaccines will be available for pregnant women and people aged 50-59 years in Aguascalientes (Photo: El Heraldo de Aguscalientes)

Any World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on COVID-19 vaccines should include more than just a waiver on intellectual property, Mexico’s representative to the trade body said, in a sign that consensus is proving tough to forge.

The United States, the European Union, India, and South Africa reached a provisional consensus on elements of a long-sought IP waiver for the vaccines, according to a document that circulated among governments last month.

However, important details remain unresolved, and Mexico’s WTO representative Angel Villalobos said the draft was not an official document and there was no deal yet.

Villalobos said any agreement should be comprehensive and ensure that an IP waiver does not affect investment in innovation, but also that commercial restrictions were not imposed on the things needed to create life-saving vaccines.

“Mexico would hope that if a complete answer is reached, it should have both things, possibly some kind of waiver if a deal is reached,” he told Reuters. “As well as the other thing, I must stress, the commercial side, that’s very important.”

That draft compromise would apply only to patents for COVID-19 vaccines, making it more limited in scope than a broad proposed WTO waiver that had won backing from the United States, which has also said no agreement has been reached.

Medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) on Monday urged governments to reject the draft on the grounds it “does not provide a meaningful solution” to making it easier for people to access needed treatments.

The draft text contained several limitations, including that the waiver is only available to WTO member countries that exported less than 10% of global exports of COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2021. It did not include COVID-19 treatments or tests.

“The challenge is how to create infrastructure so that Africa and certain regions can produce vaccines and be prepared for a new pandemic,” Villalobos said.