Prospects of Intellectual-Property Waiver on Covid-19 Vaccines Fade

This article by Gabriele Steinhauser, Drew Hinshaw and Yuka Hayashi appeared in The Wall Street Journal on November 18, 2021.

An agreement to waive the intellectual-property rights underpinning Covid-19 vaccines—a prospect poor countries have hoped would ease supplies to the developing world—is becoming increasingly unlikely, say people familiar with the situation, with the U.S. not acting to bridge disagreements between developing world countries and those opposing such a measure.

In May, the Biden administration said it would support temporarily suspending patentsand other IP linked to the shots to allow developing countries to produce the Covid-19 vaccines created by big drug companies.

The U.S. was under pressure to help get vaccines to poor countries, which have suffered severe shortages. Confirmed deaths from Covid-19 in the developing world have far outstripped those in rich countries this year.

However, people close to negotiations at the World Trade Organization, the forum for discussions on the waiver, say the U.S. hasn’t offered proposals to close the broad gap between the positions of the poor countries and those who oppose a broad waiver. A waiver is unlikely without U.S. involvement, they say. The WTO, with 164 member countries, needs a consensus to make a decision.

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