At the end of 2020, when the vaccination against covid-19 had not started in Colombia, and the cases of infection were at their highest peak worldwide, the World Trade Organization (WTO) failed to reach an agreement on the exemption to the intellectual property rights of vaccines against covid-19, initiative promoted by countries such as India, Kenya, Mozambique. This regrettable failure minimized opportunities to rapidly multiply vaccine manufacturing sites and boost supply to vulnerable nations. It is important to mention that, the main opponents of the exemption of intellectual property rights promote a profitable business model, which only favors pharmaceutical groups, leaving aside the sense of social justice.
On May the 5th, 2021, The United States made a historic statement where it reported that it supports the proposal to use this exemption, also provided in the WTO chapter on intellectual property rights, to facilitate the manufacture of vaccines against Covid 19, in any country. Katherine Tai, US Trade Representative noted: “These extraordinary times and circumstances call for extraordinary measures. The United States supports the exemption of intellectual protection in covid-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and we will actively participate in negotiations to make that happen.” This position has prompted similar reactions from European countries.
Different organizations and experts have spoken about the support that this type of proposal should have, in order to make the Human Right to Health effective. For Margarita Flórez, Director of Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad, the decision of the Biden’s Government is encouraging to extend and achieve a more accelerated vaccination process. Any progress made around stopping the pandemic and joining work between nations to this end, provides an opportunity to face this public health risks. Hopefully, the support of The United States’ Government will yield positive results.
Enrique Daza (Director of Cedetrabajo) expanded the vision on this international statement, explaining that: “Biden was right in asking that vaccines are not governed by intellectual property rights.” He said, “The President chose the longer path late!” Since this request was being made by India, South Africa and other countries to make vaccines a universal public good ”. He also mentions, “I doubt Biden’s ability to break the gigantic “lobby” of pharmaceutical companies that has immense power, not only in the United States but also throughout the world power that is capable of bending any country in Europe, preventing a consensus within the WTO”.
The private and economic interests behind the vaccines that are expressed in a “closed contract”, far from the citizen scrutiny, must draw the attention to citizen demands for the Colombian government to change its cautious and silent stance at the WTO. Colombia must move away from the fear of jeopardizing the acquisition of vaccines and the National Immunization Plan through bilateral mechanisms with large pharmaceutical companies. The right to health must be a priority, and fears do not proceed, since the exemption is a mechanism provided in commercial legislation in the grounds of a pandemic never seen before.