South Africa, Oxfam call for fairer trade rules in response to pandemic

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South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa and the head of Oxfam heaped pressure on World Trade Organization members and manufacturers to allow fairer access to COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday, including through a waiver on intellectual property rights.

At a WTO public event on trade and COVID-19 also attended by German vaccine maker BioNTech, Ramaphosa said a waiver on patents was needed to save millions of lives during the pandemic.

“This is not the time just to be uni-dimensionally focused on profit. This is the time to save lives,” Ramaphosa said.

The WTO began discussions on a waiver to intellectual property rules for COVID-19 products about a year ago but several countries with strong pharmaceutical industries including host Switzerland remain opposed.

Without mentioning the waiver specifically, Oxfam’s Executive Director Gabriela Bucher said monopolies, not science was the biggest challenge to defeating the virus.

“The reality is the current trade rules enable rich country governments and pharmaceutical corporations to work hand in hand to artificially limit vaccine supplies to developing countries, “she said. “I must appeal to BioNTech – the vaccine has turned your CEO into a double-digit billionaire,” she added.

BioNTech Chief Operating Officer Sierk Poetting said the firm was working as quickly as possible to allow other countries to do their own manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines, including those based on messenger RNA technology like its COVID-19 shot. “Trust us: we will get the local mRNA manufacturing going,” he said.

VIDEO: Last week, Ramaphosa lauded the US for its initiative to donate another 500-million dose of vaccines as an important milestone in supporting the global community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic: