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7 May 2021, 08:53
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UNAIDS Director, Winnie Byanyima, speaks in support of TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

UNAIDS Director, Winnie Byanyima, speaks in support of TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccines - picture 1

The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Winnie Byanyima, has spoken out in support of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver for COVID-19 vaccines following support from US President, Joe Biden.

In a statement Ms Byanyima said:

"We are in a race to vaccinate the majority of the world’s population to curb death tolls and before more potent variants of COVID-19 emerge, rendering current vaccines ineffective. The faster we can scale up global vaccine supply, the faster we can contain the virus and the less chance we will face a day when variants prove resistant to existing vaccines. As the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has said “no one is safe until everyone is safe”.

"The TRIPS waiver would enable the sharing of technologies, data, know-how, patents and other intellectual property rights across the world. The announcement of the US administration sends a powerful signal to the rest of the G7 and to the European Union to also support the World Trade Organization TRIPS Waiver and inspire other countries to take a powerful stand in favour of people before profits. This remarkable position from the US government is a fundamental step towards a People’s Vaccine.

"To ensure everyone, everywhere has access to a lifesaving vaccine, we also need to see a pooling of technology through the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, as well as financing to help build a network of vaccine manufacturing in developing countries. These three actions can together build a sustainable system to vaccinate the world, reach the needed herd immunity and open the paths to make the world best prepared for future pandemics."

This comes as the Biden administration also threw their weight behind waiving intellectual property laws around COVID-19 vaccines, bowing to pressure from his own party and joining more than 100 other countries in their support for greater sharing of technology & patents with the aim of getting the world vaccinated. 

The United States top Trade Representative, Katherine Tai said on the move: “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures".

Pharmaceutical firms have reacted with a mixture of besument and anger at the news, arguing that their intellectual property and resources invested in research shouldn't be given away. 

Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said such a patent waiver “amounts to the expropriation of the property of the pharmaceutical companies whose innovation and financial investments made the development of COVID-19 vaccines possible in the first place".

Any agreement on TRIPS will need consensus from the 164 member states of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) - something that is unlikely to come quickly.

Author: Tom Hayes

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