ROME — As members of the World Trade Organization consider a request to allow countries to waive certain types of intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines and related equipment, Doctors Without Borders was promoting a social media campaign to put pressure on governments to choose global solidarity over profits.
“This request for an IP waiver could be a game changer in the COVID-19 response, and we need you to help us put our voices behind it, to encourage more governments to make it a reality,” the humanitarian organization said in its “Access Campaign” website, msfaccess.org.
The IP waiver proposal needs the backing of governments for it to go forward, and individual action was needed now since “the decision on suspending patents and other types of IP in this pandemic will happen soon.”
In late February, delegates from India and South Africa proposed to World Trade Organization members there be a temporary waiver of certain Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) obligations in response to COVID-19. The proposal would allow countries to choose to suspend or not to enforce all patents, trade secrets and other types of intellectual property during the pandemic on any COVID-19 related medicines, vaccines and other health tools, until global herd immunity was reached.
A host of developing nations, including the African Union’s 43 country-members, and the Vatican have expressed their support for the proposal.
The IP waiver request made by South Africa and India was set to be on the agenda of the next formal TRIPS council meeting March 10-11, according to the World Trade Organization.
Doctors Without Borders said, “Supporting this initiative is so important because it would put people’s lives over profit and provide governments with the necessary legal basis to ensure access to COVID-19 medical tools for their people throughout this pandemic.”
The humanitarian organization asked that people go to its campaign website at msfaccess.org/no-patents-no-monopolies-pandemic to choose from a variety of graphics and videos explaining the initiative and to share them on social media, using the hashtags #NoCovidMonopolies and #TRIPSwaiver.
They also encouraged creating a “Twitter storm” by “tweeting at” countries opposed to the waiver with a message urging them to stop blocking the proposal to make COVID-19 tools more accessible and affordable, and to join the #NoCovidMonopolies movement.
Some WTO members withholding support for the waiver as of late February included the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, Switzerland and Australia.
One objection has been that patent protections promote innovation by rewarding companies that invest in research and development.
However, a group of developing countries responded to that argument, saying governments have been funding the development of COVID drugs and vaccines, and no private company is able to meet the global demand.