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WTO Agrees Limited Patent Waiver for COVID-19 Vaccines

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has reached a limited agreement to relax patent protections for the production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines. The text of the agreement is available here.

The agreement represents a clarification of already existing powers for WTO members to authorise the use of a patent without the patent-owner’s consent (so called “compulsory licensing”).

The intention of the agreement is to help boost the supply of COVID-19 vaccines for poorer countries. However, critics have noted that there is no longer a worldwide supply problem with the vaccines, and that infrastructure problems in poorer countries (e.g. testing and distribution frameworks) are seen as more urgent problems. The vaccine originators have argued that any dilution of their patent rights will serve as a disincentive to invest in vaccine development, therefore potentially creating a drag on lifesaving research and development.

The agreement is thus expected to have a limited practical impact on vaccine supply.