“If not now, then when?” WHO chief Tedros laments pharmaceutical companies’ refusal to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines as millions die

The World Health Organization Director General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Thursday, again, called on pharmaceutical companies to waive their intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines to increase production and ease vaccination access for everyone.

“If not now, then when?” the WHO boss asked, warning that no one would be safe until everyone is safe.

The disease has killed millions of people around the world, even as pharmaceutical companies have made billions of dollars from rich countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and others.

In the Director-General’s media briefing on February 26, 2021, he stated, “Now is the time to use every tool to scale up production, including licensing and technology transfer, including intellectual property waivers. If not now, then when?” 

The call asks for Advocates of the waiver point to a possible remedy for vaccine scarcity by allowing nations and their own scientific institutes to manufacture already approved vaccines. This could potentially decrease the waiting time for nation’s struggling to procure doses. Reuters reported on arguments against the waivers by the European Union, the United States, and Switzerland, explaining some argue waiving rights would have no effect on vaccine distribution issues.   

The statement acknowledged the challenge nations face in balancing domestic and global vaccination efforts, “I understand full well that governments have an obligation to protect their own people. But the best way to do that is by suppressing the virus everywhere at the same time.”

Vaccination efforts are increasing with Ghana becoming the first African nation to receive shipments on Wednesday, followed by Côte d’lvoire this morning. More nations are expected to begin their own vaccination shortly with only 43 days left in the WHO’s goal to begin vaccination in every country within the first 100 days of 2021. 

A critical problem for COVAX, the global vaccination program co-led by the WHO, comes from the lack of vaccine supply caused by nation’s approaching manufactory’s directly, by-passing the international roll out plan. The Director-General discouraged this practice, “We need to accelerate the supply and distribution of vaccines, and we cannot do that if some countries continue to approach manufactures who are producing vaccines that COVAX is counting on.”

The Director-General went on to speak about the continued importance of increasing access to COVID-19 related medical equipment. On Wednesday, The WHO announced their Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan for 2021 (2021 SPRP) outlining various objectives and pillars for the upcoming year. The 2021 SPRP outlines the “how WHO will support countries in meeting these objectives, and the resources we need to do it.”

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