Berlin/New York, 14 July 2021 — Ahead of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit to the United States, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) called on the German Chancellor to stop blocking the landmark “TRIPS waiver” at a time when COVID-19 has already killed more than four million people across the globe and there are huge inequities in access to COVID-19 medical tools. Both the United States and Germany host major pharmaceutical companies producing COVID-19 medical tools, including vaccines, and have also invested substantial sums of money in the creation of these products.
More than 100 nations, including the US, have come out in support and welcomed the proposal to waive certain intellectual property (IP) protections on COVID-19 medical tools during the pandemic. However, the European Union, with strong backing from Germany, has refused to engage in productive discussions on the waiver. Although Chancellor Merkel herself recently emphasised that the pandemic will not be defeated until the vaccination rate is high enough worldwide, only 3.2 percent of the total available vaccines have gone to 134 low- and middle-income countries via the COVAX initiative. With new and more transmissible variants spreading in low- and middle-income countries, shortages of diagnostics, treatments, and other lifesaving medical tools continue to add pressure on these countries, with their health systems being pushed to the brink of collapse.
“Germany is increasingly isolated with its stance blocking the TRIPS waiver, and is hindering global containment of the pandemic,” said Barbara Gerold-Wolke, acting General Director for MSF in Germany. “Chancellor Merkel should use the meeting with US President Joe Biden as an opportunity to revisit her rigid stance on intellectual property rights and take urgent measures to increase access to COVID-19 medical tools – now is her chance to act as a champion for global health. We’re strongly calling on Chancellor Merkel to support the TRIPS waiver, to immediately transfer vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries through the COVAX facility, and to push pharmaceutical corporations to transfer technology and know-how to other companies.”
If adopted, the TRIPS waiver could provide countries with new options to address the limitations in today’s international intellectual property rules and remove legal uncertainties and barriers that may impede production and supply of all COVID-19 medical tools, including drugs, diagnostics and vaccines.
In a groundbreaking move in early May, the US signaled its support for the waiver. On 4 June, the EU published a counter-proposal focusing on ‘compulsory licensing,’ which is an important legal tool but the EU proposal brings nothing significantly new to the table and instead is merely a maneuver to stall the TRIPS waiver negotiation process.
"The US decision in May to support a waiver of intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines was a giant step forward, but that effort now appears to have stalled,” said Avril Benoît, Executive Director of MSF- USA. “President Biden should use this summit meeting with Chancellor Merkel to urge Germany to stop blocking the TRIPS waiver. The US should also expand its support for the waiver to apply not only to vaccines, but also to cover treatments, diagnostics, and other essential medical tools for COVID-19. World leaders have repeatedly proclaimed that COVID-19 products should be treated as ‘global public goods’ for the duration of the pandemic, but so far have not delivered on these lofty statements.”
Even though more and more countries are backing the TRIPS Waiver, Chancellor Merkel and her government continue to oppose it and have time and again propagated the myth that even in a pandemic there can be no exceptions to IP protection in order to ensure future innovation.
“With COVID-19 medicines and vaccines, public sector resources and philanthropic funding have been the main drivers of the unprecedented research efforts to date,” said Yuanqiong Hu, Senior Legal and Policy Advisor at MSF’s Access Campaign. "Handing over monopoly control of these critical COVID-19 medical tools to corporations will do nothing but hamper the scale up of production and diversified supply needed to ensure global equitable access to these products to end the pandemic. To really ensure that these tools are treated as global public goods, the German government and the European Union must support the TRIPS Waiver without wasting any more time.”