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UK open to talks over jab waivers at WTO

The United Kingdom is open to talks with the United States and other World Trade Organisation members on the issue of IP waivers for COVID-19 vaccines, a government spokesman says after pressure from charities to back US proposals.

US President Joe Biden last week threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.

UK and European Union officials have been sceptical about the usefulness of the proposal while saying they are prepared to discuss it.

“We are engaging with the US and other WTO members constructively on the TRIPS waiver issue but we need to act now to expand production and distribution worldwide,” the UK government spokesman said, adding WTO negotiations on the waiver would be lengthy as they would need unanimous support.

“So while we will constructively engage in the IP discussions, we must continue to push ahead with action now including voluntary licensing agreements for vaccines.”

The UK has promised to donate surplus vaccines to other countries when it is able to but says it has no spare shots to give at the moment.

About two-thirds of the adult population of the UK has received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while the country has ordered 517 million doses in all.

Hundreds of charities, academics and politicians this week signed a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling on him to back Biden’s move on IP waivers.

Pharma companies and other critics of the waiver move say producing COVID-19 vaccines is complex and setting up production at new facilities would divert resources from efforts to boost production at existing sites, potentially compromising safety.

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