As the pandemic’s death toll nears 2.5 million, stringent rules around intellectual property rights could be preventing much of the world from obtaining COVID-19 vaccines.
Over 45 million people in the United States have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the United Nations, while 130 other countries have not received any vaccines at all, leading to what some describe as “vaccine apartheid.”
At the World Trade Organization, South Africa and India are leading a push by over 100 nations to waive intellectual property rules that give pharmaceutical companies monopolistic control over vaccines they develop, even when the vaccines are developed largely with public funds, in order to speed up distribution of the life-saving medicines — but the U.S. has been a key impediment to loosening those restrictions.
“The proposal really seeks to ensure that everyone has access,” says Mustaqeem De Gama, a member of the South African WTO delegation. “We should enable more producers to produce, to scale, and to ensure that all of us are safe in the shortest possible time.”
DN also speaks with Congressmember Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, who supports the WTO waiver. “We know that these intellectual property rights really do put profit over people all over the world,” she says.
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