At a time when the world community at large is shamelessly and selfishly engaging in “vaccine nationalism” of sorts and restricting access to Covid-19 vaccines for developing and lower-income nations, India is taking up the cause of the downtrodden and is fighting on their behalf before the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Along with South Africa, India is lobbying at the WTO to get a temporary waiver in global Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) rules to ensure an uninterrupted flow of medicines, vaccines and medical equipment among countries amid the ongoing pandemic. However, an envious European Union (EU) is trying to block such noble endeavours of India.
India’s ‘Vaccine Maitri’ mission is a global superhit, in accordance with which the country has been supplying Covid-19 vaccines to multiple countries across the world free of cost at first, and then, at highly affordable prices. Almost all the countries which India is helping during the ongoing pandemic are those which are developing, poor and have no means to negotiate a good deal for themselves with the pharmaceutical hegemons of the world. This has led to an unprecedented soft power spike for India internationally, which the European Union does not seem to be liking.
As such, European Union has made moves at the WTO to block a joint initiative of India and South Africa seeking a waiver of global IPR rules, which will allow poor and developing nations to seamlessly gain access to Covid-19 vaccines. India and South Africa have said that text-based discussions would allow manufacturers and governments to have greater freedom to operate so as to leverage the global capacity that already exists.
The European Union has introduced export controls on Covid-19 vaccines made in the region under a transparency mechanism that gives its member countries powers to deny vaccine exports if the company making them has not honoured its existing contracts with the bloc.
This is to say that the European Union has abdicated all international responsibility, and has put a freeze on vaccine exports to the remaining world until and unless all of their needs are first fulfilled. At the WTO, members like India, South Africa and other countries who support the IPR waiver proposal, have termed the current vaccine famine an artificial one that has emerged from the quest to perpetuate monopoly power using IP, especially trade secrets.
India, while slamming the European Union and other rich nations for trying to protect the commercial interests of a few big pharmaceutical companies, has requested the World Trade Organisation members to decide on the issue urgently, given the massive impact of the Chinese pandemic. India, despite having a 1.4 billion people strong population, has not resorted to producing vaccines solely for itself.
As such, the European Union and other rich countries also have no right to walk away from their responsibilities of providing weaker and developing nations with the vaccines which they are entitled to receive. Unless the EU wants to be thrashed once again before the global community, it better start behaving itself.