The European Union put forward a plan on Wednesday it believes will help boost production and availability of COVID-19 vaccines more effectively than a proposed waiver of patent rights now backed by the United States.
Under pressure from developing countries to agree to waiving intellectual property (IP) rights for vaccines and treatments, the EU plan will focus on export restrictions, pledges from vaccine developers and use of existing World Trade Organization rules.
“Universal and fair access to vaccines and treatments must be the global community’s number one priority,” EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis told the European Parliament.
In a debate on global vaccine access, Dombrovskis told lawmakers the European Union was ready to engage in examining the extent to which temporarily waiving the WTO’s TRIPS agreement contributed to expanding vaccine availability.
India and South Africa have urged fellow WTO members since October to lift IP rights to vaccines as a way of ensuring the world is supplied. Debate around the issue erupted anew last week when U.S. President Joe Biden supported the idea.
However, the European Commission vice-president said the single most effective way to achieve universal access was to ramp up production, share vaccines more widely and faster and make them affordable.
Dombrovskis said the EU plan had three elements. Export restrictions should be kept to a minimum, highlighting that the EU had exported half of vaccines produced in EU countries. French President Emmanuel Macron urged Washington on Saturday to drop restrictions on exports of vaccines and vaccine components.
Vaccine producers and developers should make concrete pledges to increase supply to vulnerable developing countries at production cost, Dombrovskis said.
Finally, Dombrovskis highlighted existing WTO rules allowing countries to grant “compulsory licences” to manufacturers ready to produce at cost price without the consent of the patent-holder, which could receive a payment, but not make a profit.
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