Some members of the UK parliament have challenged the government to use its influence at the international level to push for a waiver of intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, to enable wider access for low- and lower-middle-income countries.
Speaking at a debate in the Houses of Parliament on November 5, 2020, Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrat Party’s chief whip, noted that without such urgent action, richer countries will likely crowd out poor countries' access to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, resulting in a two-tier rollout and deepening existing inequalities.
Chamberlain noted that rules within the World Trade Organisation (WTO) already exist to enable countries to override health monopolies in exceptional public health circumstances. She also cited how Germany, Australia, and Canada have already taken advantage of these rules, loosening their laws around compulsory licenses in order to allow (if required) the use of interventions to assist with COVID-19 without the patent holders' consent.
Chamberlain, who was supported by Sarah Champion (Labour MP and Chair of the International Development Select Committee), called for the UK to step up as a force for good and support the South African and Indian proposal for intellectual property monopolies to be waivered on COVID-19 products.
However, Wendy Morton, minister at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), noted that the UK government wanted the existing rules on intellectual property rights to be upheld and not waivered. Morton cited the importance of intellectual property rights in incentivizing companies to invest in research and development around new drugs against COVID-19.
The UK government has spent around £1.0 billion ($1.3 billion) on research for COVID-19 testing, treatment, and vaccines and has contributed £548 million (US$709 million) to the COVAX Facility, an international partnership under the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator that pools resources to negotiate vaccine deals, with the goal to also help lower-income countries have more equitable access to vaccine candidates.
News article - Devex