New Delhi: Nearly 30,000 people have died daily from Covid since the World Trade Organization (WTO) initiated talks on relaxing Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property (IP) to make the shots more accessible, particularly in poor countries, according to a report on Thursday.
The IP waiver, which India and South Africa proposed in October 2020 and was backed by over 100 countries, would allow low- and middle-income countries to produce their own cheaper generic Covid-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.
But a few countries, the UK, Switzerland and some in the European Union, blocked WTO talks from reaching an agreement which could have saved countless lives.
The report, from pro-health groups Oxfam and the People’s Vaccine Alliance, stated 17.5 million people have died from Covid in the 20 months since WTO talks about waiving IP rules began.
Over half of deaths caused by Covid-19 have been in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
“If the world had acted immediately then many of these people could still be alive today. Yet, the UK and EU countries have continually sought to delay and dilute any meaningful outcome at the WTO and have refused to listen to the concerns of poorer countries,” said Anna Marriott, Oxfam’s health policy lead, in a statement.
Ahead of the WTO’s 12 Ministerial Conference, the report said that instead of focusing on the IP waiver, WTO negotiations are focused on a dangerous and limited alternative. It will not help producers in lower-income countries as it adds more hurdles preventing poorer countries from producing vaccines.
In addition, the report noted it only covers vaccines, not tests or treatments, is not global in scope and does not cover all IP or technology transfer.
“This is outrageous hypocrisy from leaders who said vaccines should be a global public good yet have worked for 20 months to derail the very process that could have delivered that promise,” Marriott said.
Currently, less than a fifth of people in African countries have been fully vaccinated.
For more than a year, vaccines were not available and once supplies began, they were sporadic and too often delivered too close to expiry to be used in full. This has undermined the trust between the EU and countries in Africa, and countries’ ability to plan effective vaccine rollouts.
“The EU countries should finally show some flexibility and good faith needed to secure a genuine IP waiver and rebuild trust with the world at this critical moment,” Julia Kosgei, policy advisor at the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said:
The report warned that the current vaccine apartheid is likely to be repeated with the next generation vaccines as well as for Covid treatments. Putting up new barriers to making vaccines could set a dangerous precedent for future pandemics, the organisations warned.