As the coronavirus pandemic rages, WTO representatives have periodically gathered around a virtual table and clashed over how to more equitably increase global access to vaccines.
On one side are the United States and other mainly wealthy Western democracies, where the major pharmaceutical companies developing key vaccines and related medical technologies are based. They want to maintain the status quo, in which the trade secrets of their vaccines—i.e. intellectual property—remain in their hands to preserve profits and the incentive for future development.
On the other side are South Africa and India, leading the charge on behalf of the vast number of countries without any—or a limited supply of—vaccine doses and other equipment for fighting the virus. They argue that the rest of the world cannot keep waiting for the lifesaving shots, which Western countries have monopolized by buying up existing supplies and pre-purchasing future rounds.
Given the gravity of the global public health crisis, the latter camp wants to resort to an emergency waiver mechanism, whereby the intellectual property rights for making vaccines and related medical supplies would be temporarily suspended, which would lead to production and distribution ramping up more equitably in factories worldwide.