With Coronavirus vaccine development in full swing across the world, India and South Africa moved a proposal asking the  World Trade Organization to waive some provisions in a trade agreement governing intellectual property rights so that medical products can be more accessible to especially by low-income countries.

Now, according to media reports, the US, European Union, UK and Switzerland have rejected the proposal which is expected to again come up for ratification before the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Council by the end of the year.

Among those backing the proposal include several developing countries like China, Pakistan, Thailand, Indonesia and Turkey.

In a submision filed on Friday before the WTO, India argued that unless a waiver is issued, there are significant concerns that diagnostics, medicines and vaccines will not be available promptly in sufficient quantities and at affordable prices to meet global demand.

India's envoy to the WTO Brajendra Navnit said in his submission, "We would like to remind the members that in a global pandemic where every country is affected, we need a global solution. And our waiver proposal represents an open and expedited global solution to allow uninterrupted collaboration in development, production and supply of health products and technologies required for an effective covid-19 response." 

Countries like US and the UK have already placed orders for million of doses of vaccines that are still under development.   

W.H.O backs India's proposal

The World health Organisation has backed India's proposal seeking to ensure universal access to coronavirus vaccine.

In a tweet, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "WHO welcomes South Africa's and India's recent proposal to WTO to ease international and intellectual property agreements on covid-19 vaccines, treatments and tests in order to make the tools available to all who need them at an affordable cost."

"Ending the pandemic starts with collaboration. WHO launched the covid-19 Technology Access Pool in May, inviting countries to share data, knowledge and intellectual property on vital, life-saving health products in the fight against the coronavirus," Ghebreyesus added.

What vaccine developers are silent on

There are currently 44 vaccines in human clinical trials. Eleven of those are in phase 3, the final phase before a request for approval for use on the general population while five are approved for early or limited use. 

No pharmaceutical company has committed to sharing its intellectual property and technologies in the C-TAP pool since its launch more than five months ago. 

Given the refusal by pharmaceutical industry to routinely offer non-exclusive licenses with worldwide coverage to facilitate global access, clearly the solution to ending the pandemic does not lie in voluntary license.

The US pharmaceutical industry says that 'strong patent protections are fundamental to the creation of new treatments that extend and improve patients' lives" and that they spend over $120 million each year to persuade policymakers of the same.

According to a report in The Guardian, in the 25 years since the 'TRIPS' was introduced, the rich nations have curtailed access to life-saving medicines and vaccines, boosting the profits of major pharmaceutical companies, hobbling public health and, finally, prolonging our exit from the coronavirus pandemic.