The World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed on a partial patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines on June 17, 2022, at the six-day ministerial meeting in Brussels, Belgium.
The agreement on COVID-19 vaccines, as well as progress on other trade cooperation, renewed support for the multilateral trading system, which has been hampered by disputes over conflicting priorities and US non-cooperation in recent years. However, many contentious decisions, including agricultural subsidies in the wake of the food crisis, were postponed and will be discussed at the next ministerial meeting in December 2023.
The partial Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver was finally approved after the UK reversed its former opposition position. The approved TRIPS waiver will allow governments to 'compel' companies to share their vaccine formulas for five years if compensation is provided. It should be noted that the waiver only partially covers COVID-19 vaccine formulas and does not waive intellectual property rights to other COVID-19-related diagnostics and treatments.
The partial waiver has been met with mixed reactions, with pharmaceutical companies and the bio-health industry upset that research and development (R&D) costs could end up 'sunk' with lower payouts than expected.
On the other hand, development and global health advocates contend that the agreement does not go far enough. The original proposal by South Africa and India included provisions to exempt all COVID-19-related vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics. Director of Knowledge Ecology International James Love said, "It is hard to imagine anything with fewer benefits than this, as a response to a massive global health emergency."
Another review will take place in six months to reevaluate the status of the partial TRIPS waiver.