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Covid-19: Are we really in this together?

Aman Gebru
By Aman Gebru

Assistant professor of law at Duquesne University School of Law. He specialises in property and intellectual property law issues. He tweets at @aman_gebru.

Posted on Tuesday, 27 April 2021 19:04

In this 29 March 2021 file photo, a man prepares for his AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at Ndirande Health Centre in Blantyre, Malawi. (AP Photo/Thoko Chikondi, File)

A storm is brewing in Geneva. In March 2021, several wealthy member states of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rejected a request by more than 80 developing countries to waive patents for Covid-19 vaccines to increase access for some of the world’s poorest.

India and South Africa had first made similar requests back in October 2020. The US, the UK and Switzerland – countries that have significant pharmaceutical industries – argue that waiving patents will discourage companies from investing in the research and development necessary for vaccine development.

The roll-out of vaccines

The WTO works on the basis of consensus. Even if the majority want a waiver, the wealthy minority have stalled their request. In the present form, most people in developing economies are unlikely to be vaccinated this year. Substantial numbers will have to wait until next year or even later.