U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday endorsed the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s proposal to waive intellectual property of COVID-19 vaccines, which was in line with a statement issued by the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). The WTO’s proposal is to temporarily suspend intellectual property of the novel coronavirus vaccine so that around 100 developing nations including India and South Africa can produce generic drugs. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom greeted the idea, saying that Washington’s decision marks a milestone in fight against COVID-19.
Washington’s endorsement comes as good news to South Korea and other nations with lack of access to vaccines. It takes 11 billion doses of vaccines for 70 percent of the global population to get injected twice. Nevertheless, things have got worse as only a small number of advanced nations have produced jabs, failing to meet global demands. Added to this, only less than a third of the whole vaccines available across the globe have been supplied for the developing world, whose population takes up as high as 80% of the planet with most jabs available in the advanced group, which is explained by the association between injection rates and confirmed cases. The United States and Israel have seen a drop in confirmed cases with herd immunity just a few steps ahead while almost 4,000 people die every day in India with the injection rate being lower than 10 percent. With an intellectual property waiver in place temporarily, vaccine production will increase to narrow the gap in access to vaccines.
However, a sudden spike in vaccine production is a far cry from the reality as the waiver is one of the most exceptional measures, which the WTO can take when AIDS took place, for example, with the whole body of 164 member states in favor. Although intellectual property is suspended, no one can sure how openly and transparently pharmaceuticals share their technological secrets to vaccine products, in which they have poured a large amount of resources. Seoul should give its utmost assistance to domestic pharmaceutical businesses with production capabilities so that they can grow as the hub of Asian vaccine production. Along with such effort, it has to come up with support programs to protect drug companies from seeing damage to products already in the pipeline due to the waiver of intellectual property.
The USTR said in a statement that as Washington has secured vaccines for its whole citizens, it will continue to fabricate and supply vaccines beyond its borders. If vaccines are left scarce in developing nations, COVID-19 is expected to end two years later at the earliest. It is time for Washington to lead the WTO to take bold and swift action while helping export and supply vaccines to countries with poor access so that the human kind can expedite its triumph against the virus.