GENEVA, 10 March 2021 – Deliberations opened Wednesday on a proposal by South Afirca and India to suspend patents on new coronavirus vaccines in order to increase production.
More than 100 member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO) from the developing world support the proposal under debate at the WTO headquarters in Geneva.
Most low and lower-income countries are yet to start vaccination against COVID-19.
The proposal from South Africa and India is effectively the first challenge facing newly-inaugurated WTO director-general, Nigerian-born Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
Drug companies are resisting the move in ways no different from how they resisted similar proposals by South Africa and India to expand access to anti-retroviral drugs during the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
The WTO heard drug companies argue that it is manufacturing capacity and a shortage of ingredients, not patents, that are an obstacle to expanding vaccine production and distribution.
Britain, the European Union and the United States are opposed to the proposal and observers fear that they will prevail before the WTO.
Over 400 American organizations have signed a petition urging the Biden administration to join the campaign to waive vaccine patents in order to save millions of lives, notably in developing countries.