The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

WTO Requests Patent Waivers on Vaccines

May 10, 2021

In October of 2020, India and South Africa asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to waive patent protection for the Covid vaccines. This would have allowed other countries to make more of the vaccine to use for their own populations. So far, most of the vaccines are going to people in the wealthier countries. The governments of the U.S., Britain and the European Union (EU) opposed any such waiver.

On May 5, facing pressure from around the world, Joe Biden finally said that the U.S. government would agree to a temporary, limited waiver of patent protection. Britain and the EU still haven’t agreed to the waiver and any decision by the WTO must be unanimous. Biden’s representative to the WTO said that any such agreement would “take time.”

The WTO won’t even meet again to discuss the issue until next month. And even a temporary waiver of the patent doesn’t solve the whole problem because other countries would still need the technical knowledge of how to produce the vaccine.

So far, the drug companies have been unwilling to share this knowledge. Biden’s announcement said nothing about this issue.

The governments of the U.S., Britain and the EU have been opposing sharing of the patent and the technical knowledge. They have put forward many reasons, but the end result will protect and enhance the profits of the drug companies based in their respective countries. Pfizer and Moderna already made a combined profit of 5.2 billion dollars from their Covid vaccines, in just the first 3 months of the year!

Covid does not respect national borders. As Covid continues to spread and mutate around the world, the populations in the U.S., Britain and the European Union will continue to be at risk. Maybe the capitalist governments in these countries will eventually agree to some limited sharing of patents and the technical knowledge to produce the vaccine.

But 8 months have gone by since India and South Africa first asked for this patent waiver. Since then, tens of millions more people around the world have contracted Covid and over a million more people have died. Only the profits of the drug companies have been fully protected.

The outrageous inhumanity of a capitalist system that puts the profits of a few wealthy corporations before the lives of millions of people cannot be denied. It also cannot be denied that, in the interest of humanity, it is a system that needs to be gotten rid of.