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WTO Chief Pushes European Officials to Drop Opposition to Patent Waiver for COVID Vaccines

HeadlineMay 21, 2021

Argentina has ordered a new coronavirus lockdown, after reporting over 35,000 new infections for the third straight day.

India reported another 260,000 cases and 4,200 deaths on Friday — though both numbers are likely a significant undercount. This week, the Serum Institute of India — the world’s largest vaccine producer — said it would not ship any vaccine doses beyond India this year, dealing another blow to the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative to vaccinate poorer nations. COVAX is already 140 million doses behind schedule.

In Brussels, the head of the World Trade Organization met with top European Union officials on Thursday, urging them to reverse their opposition to waiving patent rights for COVID vaccines. Over 100 nations, led by South Africa and India, say the move is desperately needed to increase the availability of vaccines in the Global South. WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala pointed to idle factories in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Senegal, South Africa and Thailand. She called vaccine inequity an “unacceptable problem” and urged European officials to act quickly to save lives.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala: “I think we should focus, and I want us to go fast, because this is about lives. I don’t want us to take years again to negotiate this issue.”

Meanwhile, the People’s Vaccine Alliance reports profits from COVID vaccines have helped at least nine people become billionaires during the pandemic — with a combined wealth of over $19 billion  — more than enough to cover the cost of fully vaccinating all people in low-income countries. 

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