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An expert offers one solution to the COVID-19 vaccine access problem

The world has a COVID-19 vaccine access problem: Almost half of all doses administered so far have been in Europe and North America, while many poorer countries have vaccinated less than than 1% of their populations.

With new coronavirus variants raising the health risk, South Africa and India have proposed that the World Trade Organization temporarily waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines to help ramp up production.

The U.S., Britain and the European Union rejected the idea, arguing that intellectual property rights – which give vaccine creators the power to prevent other companies from reproducing their products – are necessary to ensure innovation and waiving them would not result in increased production. They are now under pressure to change their minds.

So, are there only two paths here? Patents remain inviolate, or patents are disregarded?

I have worked on legal issues related to access to medicines since 2004 and have been involved in these debates at the WTO and the World Intellectual Property Organization, working with civil society groups and developing countries. I believe there is a middle way: compulsory licensing.



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