Two prominent global rights groups on Thursday called on the European Union and high-income countries including USA, Canada, Japan, and UK to urgently support the TRIPS corona waiver proposal and ensure affordable access to the vaccine.
“Governments should stop blocking a temporary waiver of some global intellectual property rules that will help boost global access to Covid-19 vaccines,” said Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, according to a statement.
The groups made the call ahead of a key World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Geneva today (Thursday).
If adopted, the waiver proposal would enable more governments to fulfil their obligations to respect the rights to life and health. The call comes as vaccinations for Covid-19 have begun in the United Kingdom and are likely to begin in other countries in the near future, the statement added.
At the WTO meeting, the governments will discuss a proposal by India and South Africa to temporarily waive some provisions of the Trade-Related Aspects of the Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement.
The proposal would facilitate technology transfers so that Covid-19 medical products, including vaccines, could be produced quickly and affordably by manufacturers around the world.
Higher-income countries have already made deals to buy up the vast majority of the world’s potential vaccine supplies for 2021, so the move would help scale up access for people in lower-income countries, it said.
“The proposal by India and South Africa is designed to help governments grapple with the ongoing extraordinary global health crisis,” said Bruno Stagno Ugarte, deputy executive director for advocacy at HRW.
“Governments should swiftly adopt this proposal so they’re better able to make life-saving medical products, including vaccines, available and affordable for all.”
Kenya, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Pakistan have joined India and South Africa to co-sponsor the waiver proposal. The proposal was welcomed or supported by 100 countries, most of them low- or middle-income.
But a small group of high-income countries and their trading partners have opposed it; including Brazil, the European Union, Canada, the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom, the statement added.
Some of these governments claim that existing flexibilities in global intellectual property rules are sufficient to allow for compulsory licencing in low- and middle-income countries.
But past practice shows that these tools are hard to use, and that greater flexibilities are needed to meet the scale of the global challenge posed by Covid-19.
“We can only put an end to Covid-19 if governments recognize their human rights obligations and ensure that those most in need of life-saving vaccines are not left behind,” said Tamaryn Nelson, Amnesty International’s adviser on the right to health.
“Agreeing to the TRIPS waiver is a crucial way for states to demonstrate that they are fully committed to immediately doing whatever is necessary to protect the right to health of billions of people, no matter where they live.”
Governments have obligations to ensure that all countries share the benefits of scientific research, and not to interfere with other countries’ ability to fulfill their obligations under the rights to health and life. These include securing access to medical products and treatments needed to respond to Covid-19, including vaccines.
All countries should support the waiver to facilitate universal and fair access to these potentially life-saving interventions, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said.
All vaccine developers, including Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Oxford/AstraZeneca, should endorse and participate in the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, to facilitate sharing of intellectual property and know-how.
Welcoming the proposed waiver, a group of United Nations human rights experts last month in a joint statement highlighted that the existing TRIPS framework “may have an adverse impact on prices and availability of medicines.”
They reminded the governments that intellectual property rights should not be a barrier to their international human rights obligations, to share the benefits of scientific research widely, and in furtherance of their human rights obligations.