The early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic forced the world to clear numerous hurdles before people living with HIV could access affordable, lifesaving antiretroviral medications (ARVs).
Fast forward to the age of COVID-19 — to avoid those same obstacles, the World Trade Organization should clear the path for countries to invoke flexibilities to temporarily lift intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines.
One mechanism that improved ARV access in the past — and could be used today — is the WTO’s 2001 Doha Declaration. It stressed the need for the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs Agreement) to be a part of increased international actions to address public health problems.
Flexibilities authorized under TRIPs are what ultimately allowed countries to manufacture generic medicines during public health crises. But after calls from South Africa and the World Health Organization’s to Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus to temporarily waive patents, the 164-member WTO seems stuck on taking that necessary step to expand COVID-19 vaccine access.
Of the 225 million vaccinations that have been administered globally to date, the vast majority have occurred in wealthy, western countries.
"This current health crisis is a glaring reminder of the 1980s and '90s — everyone was afraid of HIV/AIDS, and when treatment was finally available, making it affordable and accessible was a lengthy and grueling process," said AHF Director of Global Advocacy and Partnerships Joey Terrill.
“During this unprecedented time, the world greatly needs the WTO to utilize the flexibilities it has on-hand. Countries must be united against our common enemy in COVID-19, not doubling down on vaccine nationalism,” Terrill added.
While the world has dealt with big pharma greed for decades, in a pandemic, vaccine manufacturers should be compelled to share intellectual property related to vaccine development, especially considering significant initial research and development have been funded by public institutions.
Sharing IP allows generic pharmaceutical companies to help expand global access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines.
We invite you to watch the eye-opening documentary, DRUG$: The Price We Pay, which is narrated by Academy Award Winner J.K. Simmons and dives deep into the pharmaceutical industry to shed light on the soaring prices of medicines.
While it primarily focuses on the U.S., the issues it covers run parallel to the struggle to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.