Under pressure, the EU says it has an alternative to boosting production more effectively than the US-backed patent waiver proposal.
The European Union has unveiled a plan it believes will help increase the production and availability of COVID-19 vaccines more effectively than a proposed waiver of patent rights now endorsed by the United States.
Under pressure from developing countries demanding a waiver of intellectual property (IP) rights for vaccines and treatments, the EU on Wednesday unveiled an alternative focused on export restrictions, the promises of vaccine developers and the flexibility of existing World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
WTO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that the world has reached a “vaccine apartheid” situation, with poorer countries making up half the population receiving only 17% of vaccines.
EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis told the European Parliament that universal and fair access was the number one priority of the world community.
In a debate on global access to vaccines, Dombrovskis told lawmakers that the EU was prepared to examine the extent to which the temporary waiver of the WTO TRIPS agreement helped make vaccines more available.
India and South Africa have been urging fellow WTO members since October to withdraw intellectual property rights over vaccines to ensure world supply. The debate over the issue erupted again last week when US President Joe Biden supported the idea.
The EU and other opponents have said this will not increase vaccine production.
The vice-president of the European Commission said the most effective way to achieve universal access was to increase production, share more vaccines and make them affordable.
Dombrovskis said the EU plan had three elements.
Export restrictions must be kept to a minimum, he said, noting that half of the vaccines produced in EU countries had been exported. French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday urged Washington to drop restrictions on exports of vaccines and vaccine components.
Vaccine producers and developers should also make concrete commitments to increase supply to developing countries vulnerable to a cost of production, Dombrovskis said.
Finally, Dombrovskis highlighted the existing WTO rules that allow countries to grant licenses to manufacturers even without the consent of the patent holder. If such a manufacturer provided vaccines at a cost price, the rights holder would not be able to obtain any benefit from the payment to be paid.
The Commission, which will present the plan to WTO members in early June, said it could be implemented much faster than a waiver, which would require a change in WTO rules and could take many months to comply. se.
The European Parliament will vote on a resolution renouncing intellectual property in June, although Wednesday’s debate showed a clear divide between pro-left and pro-green groups and right-wing groups. .