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Ireland is the latest country to come under pressure to back the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) appeal to waive intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 vaccines, as developing countries struggle to vaccinate their populace.
Charities including Oxfam, Amnesty International and Trócaire have called on the Government of Ireland to support the waiving of IP rights to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across the globe.
This sentiment is also backed by the public. Oxfam Ireland revealed the results of a survey on Wednesday 10 March that showed more than six in 10 adults in Ireland (62%) say that the government should ensure pharmaceutical companies who develop COVID-19 vaccines should not retain “monopoly control”.
Only 18% of respondents to the survey backed the government's protection of company’s IP rights over the vaccines.
Responding to the polling results, Jim Clarken, chief executive of Oxfam Ireland, said: “There is clear support among the Irish public for equitable vaccine supply, as well as evident concern about the continued and prolonged impact this virus will have if it continues to spread beyond Ireland.”
“People in developing countries need access to vaccines to protect lives and reduce the associated risks the virus poses, just as people in Ireland do. Without united global action, the Covid-19 health crisis, and resulting economic fallout and disruption will continue to have grave effects here in Ireland and worldwide," Clarken added.
Last month, 12 non-profits, including Oxfam, co-signed a letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin urging the Irish government to back the waiving of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreements related to COVID-19 vaccines.
The goal of the waiver is to ensure lower and lower-middle income countries gain access to the vaccine.
The letter says: “The TRIPS waiver would facilitate access for governments and manufacturers worldwide to the technology needed to invest in making Covid-19 vaccines and treatments as rapidly as possible, in as many places as possible, for the billions who still need them.”
Whilst more than 100 countries, led by India and South Africa, have shown their support for the waiver, many developed countries in the EU as well as the US have been wary of backing it.
The waiver proposal was pitched by Indian and South African representatives to the WTO in a formal TRIPS council meeting on 10 December 2020, with the organisation unable to come to an agreement. The most recent argument for the waiver was heard in the TRIPS Council formal meeting yesterday on 10 March, where the organisation failed yet again to reach an agreement.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has also backed the temporary waiving of COVID IP rights in a letter on Sunday 7 March.
“Waiving patents temporarily won’t mean innovators miss out. Like during the HIV crisis or in a war, companies will be paid royalties for the products they manufacture,” said Ghebreyesus.
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COVID-19, WTO, Oxfam, Trócaire, TRIPS, WHO