Last month, the World Trade Organization met to discuss the suspension of intellectual property rights pertaining to COVID-19 vaccines, with the aim of assisting developing countries in the production of their own vaccines. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has now released a statement indicating that the United States will support those negotiations. According to sources, the European Commission is also ready to discuss this potential suspension of rights.
Negotiations at the World Trade Organization are typically slow and laborious given that the process is driven by reaching consensus among the voluntary member delegations. Thus, popular opinion appears to be that this waiver would not be implemented for several months. Additionally, developing countries continue to lag in vaccination rates even despite Moderna's pledge in October that it would not enforce its intellectual property rights for the duration of the pandemic. This fact, coupled with the avilability of a "compulsory license" to patented inventions for developing countries under the existing WTO agreements, seems to suggest that access to materials, resources, and expertise may be a higher barrier to vaccine production than intellectual property rights.