GENEVA, October 2022 — A Swiss bureaucrat is being investigated following a surprise late-night agreement by the World Trade Organisation to suspend intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines.
The WTO agreed to a five-year suspension after Switzerland unexpectedly dropped its opposition to the proposal, which has been deadlocked for two years.
Under the suspension, pharmaceutical companies must issue global, open and non-exclusive licences to manufacture current and future vaccines. The waiver has long been seen as a way to improve vaccination rates in developing countries and curtail profiteering by drugs manufacturers.
Earlier this year Pfizer reported that its Covid vaccine was the company’s most lucrative drug, generating US$37bn in sales in 2021.
Switzerland, one of several countries opposed to suspending IP rights, argued that intellectual property protections were the best way to ensure private investment in public health innovation.
However, this position changed unexpectedly on Wednesday night with the Swiss delegate saying: “It is time to begin dismantling the structures that support inequality.”
“Once the Swiss agreed, any remaining opposition collapsed,” said one person who was at the meeting. “It was someone new from Switzerland, I didn’t recognise them from previous meetings.”
It was unclear whether the Swiss government approved the move or why the representative had changed. In a statement, the president said briefing documents and communication with the delegate were being audited “as part of normal processes”.
However, one observer suggested the WTO deal was proof that covert activist networks were infiltrating institutions.
“These groups have been recruiting bureaucrats for years. They’re trying to change things from the inside.”
Find out more
- Double dose of inequality: Amnesty International;
- India and South Africa ask WTO to waive rules to aid COVID-19 drug production: Reuters