Member nations of the World Trade Organization are wrapping up two days of talks in Geneva Wednesday focused on waiving intellectual property rights on new COVID-19 vaccines.
Ambassadors from the WTO’s 164 member states have been debating a proposal first proposed by South Africa and India back in October that would temporarily lift patent rights held by pharmaceutical companies that developed the vaccines. Supporters of the proposal say the waiver will allow for the faster manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines for use by developing countries, where vaccination rates have lagged behind those of wealthier nations.
But pharmaceutical companies claim that granting the waiver could hurt future innovation and will not lead to the quick production of coronavirus vaccines.
Dozens of civil society groups and former heads of state, including former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Mikhail Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union have urged U.S. President Joe Biden to support the proposed waiver. More than 100 members of the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to President Biden also urging him to support the proposal.
Biden says he has not made a decision on the matter. The proposal must be agreed on by all 164 WTO member nations.
In a related development, Agence France-Presse is reporting that India’s Reserve Bank has pledged to provide $6.7 billion in cheap financing for the country’s vaccine makers, hospitals and other health firms as the world’s second-most populous country is mired in a catastrophic surge of the virus.
"The devastating speed with which the virus affects different regions of the country has to be matched by swift and wide-ranging actions," said Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das in making the announcement.
India’s Health Ministry reported another 382,315 new cases of coronavirus cases on Wednesday, including 3,780 COVID-related deaths. The South Asian nation has more than 20 million total coronavirus infections, second only behind the United States, and 226,188 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.