The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has called on pharmaceutical firms, manufacturing the COVID-19 vaccine, to make enough for everyone in the world or voluntarily hand their technology to developing countries.

WTO head Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says it is not acceptable to leave poorer countries at the end of the queue for vaccines.

Okonjo-Iweala acknowledged that members were split on the issue of relaxing WTO rules on intellectual property so that more drug manufacturers can make the jabs.

She says pharmaceutical companies should follow AstraZeneca which has allowed India’s Serum Institute to manufacture its vaccine at a cost price.

“If we had more of that kind of voluntary licensing and transfer faster, we could save many more people. There is some capacity in emerging markets and developing countries in use now. Less have the same arrangement that AstraZeneca has with the Serum Institute. Novavax, Johnson&Johnson and all the others should follow suit,” says Okonjo-Iweala.

World Trade Organisation’s waivers on COVID-19 vaccines:

South Africa has remained at the forefront of efforts at the WTO to trigger waivers that would temporarily suspend patent laws that limit the global production of COVID-19 vaccines and other medical products.

Initiated in October 2020 by South Africa and India, the move has now seen more than 100 countries, including China, support the effort to apply waivers to parts of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights known as TRIPS.

This could pave the way for developing countries to produce vaccines and other products more readily, but in a consensus-driven organisation like the WTO, nothing is as simple as it seems.