Opinion and Editorial

KT edit: Patents shouldn’t stand in the way of vaccine drive

Filed on June 1, 2021

Coronavirus has, in many ways, altered reality.

The World Trade Organisation was created for a purpose, and depending on where you’re coming from, it can either be of two: To help shore up the global economy or — let’s face it — protect the interests of profit mechanisms. Just don’t tell the most underprivileged about the latter. This is the same WTO that’s squabbling from within right now on intellectual property rights for Covid vaccines. Simply put, a good number of its members want waivers for these IPs for the noble and blatantly obvious reason of getting these life-saving doses to everyone, especially those in the remotest of places.

Coronavirus has, in many ways, altered reality. This applies, on a major scale, to businesses and money-making machines. No matter how grave a situation may be, there’ll always be an opportunity to pounce on; businesses clearly know this. How vaccines for the pandemic were created in rather record pace, we’ll never know. But one thing is clear: It has money written all over it. Companies may have toned down the business side of it in the name of saving humanity, but still.

To be fair, IPs were developed with the intent of promoting fair play and avoiding the theft of rights that, well, rightfully belong to their owners. It couldn’t get more ironic, however, that these same rights are stripping their equivalent from those who desperately need a jab.

A thievery, if you may call it. Maybe we should have learned our lesson early on during the pandemic when N95 mask maker 3M was called upon to release its patent for its top-of-the-line masks and even ordered to stop exporting them so US residents could use them.

That this entire WTO IP episode is shaping up into another prolonged argument is amusing at best, silly at worst, is just the last thing we need. While Covid morphs into various mutations, more people are infected and dying, and several countries are in a quandary on how to acquire vaccines, the usual victims, the poor, will fall again to the usual suspects, the for-profits. There’s another reason — or, at least, there should be this reason — why intergovernmental organisations were created in the first place: To act as the moral guardian, the conscience that dictates. As quickly as these vaccines were developed, here’s to hoping that the same pace applies to the WTO and its members to arrive at a favourable agreement — even faster, for everyone’s sake.

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