The head of the World Trade Organization is calling for expanded capability in developing countries to manufacture vaccines, saying it was “not acceptable” to leave poorer countries at the “end of the queue” for shots.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said she supports the creation of a framework that would give developing countries “some automaticity and access to manufacture vaccines with technology transfer” during future pandemics, decrying the “vaccine inequity” of the current one.
She pointed to AstraZeneca’s deal to transfer its know-how to a mass vaccine manufacturer in India.
Such “voluntary licensing… could save many more people,” she said.
“Novovax, J& J and all the others should follow suit,” she said, referring to other vaccine manufacturers.
“The idea that 70% of vaccines today have been administered only by 10 countries is really not acceptable,” Okonjo-Iweala told reporters while hosting French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire at WTO’s Geneva headquarters.
Scores of the trade body’s member nations have backed efforts led by South Africa and India to get the WTO to grant a temporary waiver of its intellectual property pact to help boost COVID-19 vaccine production at a time of insufficient supplies.
Some wealthier countries and those with strong pharmaceutical industries oppose the idea, saying it would crimp future innovation.
Dr Okonjo-Iweala, who became director general of the World Trade Organization earlier this month, said the world must avoid the decade-long wait many developing countries faced to get anti-HIV drugs.
“I’m very concerned,” she said. “The kind of inequities we see in vaccine access are really not acceptable, you can’t have a situation in which, you know, 10 countries have administered 70% of vaccine doses in the world, and there are countries that don’t have one single dose”.
Many nations in the developed world, which began their own vaccinations months ago, have faced criticism for buying or ordering more vaccines than they need.