ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—A group of developing countries, led by South Africa and India, say they will press at the World Trade Organization this week to free Covid-19 vaccines from patent protections so they can be more accessible and affordable for poor countries.
The pandemic requires a temporary suspension of the world’s usual intellectual property system, the countries say they will argue at a WTO council meeting this Friday. If poorer countries aren’t given special access to the vaccines, which are expected to hit the market by the start of next year, the group of developing nations say they will argue, they will continue to be devastated by the coronavirus even as it is stopped in the West.
The proposed waiver pits the developing nations against the U.S., the European Union, Japan and other wealthier countries, as well as Western pharmaceutical companies, which say respecting intellectual property rights is key to promoting the rapid development of the vaccines.
Developed nations have already struck deals with Western pharmaceutical companies to buy up enough vaccines to tie up most of the world’s production capacity until the end of 2021.
If the developed nations don’t relent, South Africa is prepared to try to force the issue through a rare contested vote at the trade organization, said Mustaqeem De Gama, counselor at the South African mission to the WTO. Decisions made at the trade organization are usually done on consensus.