In a major breakthrough at the TRIPS Council meeting of 8-9 June, WTO member countries agreed to start text-based negotiations on the proposal, put forward by South Africa and India last year. The UK stalled these negotiations for eight months and is still expressing opposition to the waiver.
The UK is looking increasingly isolated after a global wave of support for the proposal. It is already backed by more than 100 countries; last month the US announced its support and in the last week the BRICS and APEC expressed theirs.
“In this pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe,” said Vickie Hawkins, executive director of MSF UK. “As new variants appear and spread, it’s short-sighted in the extreme to not take every chance we have to increase global access to vaccines and other medical tools. Incredibly, the UK government has so far been pulling in the opposite direction. As the hosts of the G7 at this critical moment, they must take the opportunity to show real leadership, support the waiver and demonstrate that they value lives over pharmaceutical company profits.”
The UK government continues to claim that an IP waiver could dampen future innovation, despite the fact that the proposed waiver is temporary and designed specifically to address this unprecedented global crisis. This pandemic has already demonstrated that it is possible to accelerate research and development that is primarily driven by public health needs and public funding.
“The UK government keep repeating the same tired arguments against the waiver, which do not stand up and sound remarkably similar to pharmaceutical industry talking points,” said Hawkins.
Millions of people have already died from COVID-19, and whilst the UK is offering first jabs to healthy 25-year-olds, limited global supplies mean that other countries do not have enough to vaccinate their frontline health care workers.
“Now is not the time to depend on voluntary actions by companies, or to wait for the current market system to deliver vaccines and other medical tools in the quantities the world needs and at affordable prices. The waiver offers a concrete legal solution to address intellectual property (IP) barriers as part of scaling up the supply of COVID-19 medicines, vaccines and other health technologies. We must act now using every option available to us, and I urge the government to support the waiver,” said Hawkins.