Reaction to WTO’s deal on Covid-19 vaccine patents

This deal is about “saving reputations, not lives” – Reaction to agreement at World Trade Organisation (WTO) on patents for COVID-19 vaccines in developing countries

Rich country governments – including the UK – have blocked the broad waiver on intellectual property rules which is needed to help tackle deep inequality of access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.

Earlier this month, the Scottish and Welsh Governments – who are responsible for public health in their nations – jointly called on the UK Government to end its opposition to a comprehensive waiver.

Today, the People’s Vaccine Alliance says the EU, UK, US and Switzerland have blocked the action needed at the WTO – with the UK ‘twisting the knife’ in the negotiations.

It comes amid estimates that less than 18% of people in low-income countries having now received at least one dose of a vaccine.

Responding to the deal, Max Lawson, Co-Chair of the People’s Vaccine Alliance and Head of Inequality Policy at Oxfam, said:

“This is absolutely not the broad intellectual property waiver the world desperately needs to ensure access to vaccines and treatments for everyone, everywhere. The EU, UK, US, and Switzerland blocked that text.

“This so-called compromise largely reiterates developing countries’ existing rights to override patents in certain circumstances. And it tries to restrict even that limited right to countries which do not already have capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines.

“Put simply, it is a technocratic fudge aimed at saving reputations, not lives.

“The conduct of rich countries at the WTO has been utterly shameful. The EU has blocked anything that resembles a meaningful intellectual property waiver. The UK and Switzerland have used negotiations to twist the knife and make any text even worse. And the US has sat silently in negotiations with red lines designed to limit the impact of any agreement.

“It is disgraceful that rich countries have prevented the WTO from delivering a meaningful agreement on vaccines and have dodged their responsibility to take action on treatments while people die without them.”

South Africa and India have led a twenty-month fight for the rights of developing countries to manufacture and access vaccines, tests, and treatments. However, The People’s Vaccine Alliance says there are some worrying new obligations in this WTO text that could actually make it harder for countries to access vaccines in a pandemic. It hopes that developing countries will now take bolder action to exercise their rights to override vaccine intellectual property rules and, if necessary, circumvent them to save lives.

The People’s Vaccine Alliance members in Scotland – including Oxfam Scotland, Global Justice Now in Scotland, and Christian Aid Scotland – have been campaigning in support of a comprehensive waiver.

Jamie Livingstone, Head of Oxfam Scotland, added:

“The Scottish and Welsh Governments were right to throw their weight behind a “comprehensive” waiver – but this deal falls well short of that and rich country governments, including the UK, must take responsibility.

“Action to block the measures needed to help ensure equitable access to vaccines and treatments is not only morally shameful, it will also make it harder to bring this pandemic to an end.

“Scientists have repeatedly warned that vaccine inequality increases the risk that new variants of concern may emerge that place the recovery across the UK – including here in Scotland – in jeopardy.

“Yet after a year-and-a-half of stalling and millions of deaths, profit is still being put before people’s lives.”



For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Natalie Terry, Oxfam Scotland; / 07906139293

Notes to editors

Spokespeople are available for interview in Geneva, where the WTO is hosting its 12th ministerial conference.

In October 2020, South Africa and India proposed a broad waiver of the Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement covering COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments. The EU, UK, and Switzerland blocked that proposal. The US supported an IP waiver for only vaccines. The final text agreed is a watered down waiver of one small clause of the TRIPS agreement relating to exports of vaccines. It also contains new barriers that are not in the original TRIPS agreement text.

The joint statement by the Scottish and Welsh Government – issued by Neil Gray MSP, Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, and Eluned Morgan MS, the Minister for Health and Social Services can be read here:

Estimates on the number of people receiving at least one does of vaccine: