European Parliament urges European Commission to support patent waiver for COVID vaccine

The European Parliament urged the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, Thursday to support waiver for patents surrounding COVID-19 vaccines.  

The proposal, submitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO), demands that COVID-19 vaccine patents be exempt from provisions in the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requirement protecting patent rights, essentially removing IP protection for the vaccines. The EU Parliament voted to support the waiver earlier this week with 355 ayes, 263 nays and 71 absentations.

The EU Commission disagrees that a patent waiver is the best approach to tackle the vaccine shortage issue. The Commission submitted an alternative that features three elements.

  1. Keep exporting restrictions to a minimum.
  2. Provide government assistance to vaccine manufacturers and focus on exporting to vaccine vulnerable countries.
  3.  Establish a voluntary licensing programme that complies with the TRIPS agreement.

EU Commission President Charles Michel stated that a patent waiver is not a “silver bullet” to the ongoing vaccine inequality issue.

The patent waiver proposal was supported by the medical humanitarian group Medecins Sans Frontieres, which states that compulsory legal solutions must be adopted as pharmaceutical corporations are unlikely to adhere to voluntary endeavours. It has also received support from the Biden administration, French President Macron and the WHO.

This current waiver, however, only applies to COVID-19 vaccines. There is a growing force coming from South Africa, India and the US government that patent waivers should also apply to COVID-19 related medical products such as therapeutic medicine and personal protective equipment. This amended waiver request was submitted by a delegation of several developing countries that are suffering from vaccine inequality, written to the WTO’s TRIPS council.