Key WTO members reach deal for IP waiver on COVID-19 shots; drugmakers oppose

Mar. 16, 2022 9:30 AM ETPfizer Inc. (PFE), AZN, BNTX, JNJMRNABy: Dulan Lokuwithana, SA News Editor14 Comments

Intellectual Property Rights, Copyright, Patent or Trademark Infringement

Olivier Le Moal/iStock via Getty Images

After more than a year of deadlock, four leading members of the World Trade Organization, the U.S., EU, India, and South Africa reached a consensus on Tuesday for key elements of an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, Reuters reported. However, industry groups said the move could blunt their efforts to respond to future emergencies.

The deal now needs the support of 164 members of the WTO. Even one member can block an accord as the entity reaches decisions based on consensus.

"This is a major step forward, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala remarked after the agreement. "But we are not there yet. We have more work to do to ensure that we have the support of the entire WTO membership."

The agreement allows countries to permit the domestic manufacturing of vaccines without the consent of the patent holder.

It is applicable only for developing countries contributing to less than 10% of global exports of COVID-19 vaccine in 2021, meaning the deal can exclude China and clear India, Reuters reported, noting that the latter banned vaccine exports for most of 2021.

International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) raised its objections to the agreement.

"Biopharmaceutical companies reaffirm their position that weakening patents now when it is widely acknowledged that there are no longer supply constraints of COVID-19 vaccines, sends the wrong signal," IFPMA director general Thomas Cueni noted.

Leading vaccine makers, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and AstraZeneca (NASDAQ:AZN), declined to comment. BioNTech (NASDAQ:BNTX), the German partner of Pfizer (PFE) for its blockbuster COVID-19 shot, had no immediate comments.

A spokesperson for the pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA, whose members include vaccine maker Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), said an IP rights waiver was unnecessary and impact efforts to end the pandemic.

Last May, the U.S. voiced its support for a waiver on IP protections sending the shares of COVID-19 vaccine makers lower.

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