SA renews push for Covid-19 vaccine patent waivers
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New Delhi, India - Government on Tuesday stepped up its push to waive intellectual property rights over coronavirus jabs, arguing this could help poorer nations close a "global gap" on vaccine access.
Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor reiterated Pretoria's position - shared with other major players like India and with the World Health Organization (WHO) - that "none of us are safe until all of us are safe".
Securing a waiver agreement "will allow use of intellectual property, the sharing of technologies and technology transfer," Pandor told a meeting of the BRICS group of emerging economies, enabling "the production of vaccine therapeutics and wider distribution".
Formed in 2006, BRICS groups Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
South Africa and India are leading a global campaign at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for Covid vaccines.
Supporters of the move argue it will spur production of low-cost generic vaccines, helping poor countries that are struggling to immunise their people.
The US under President Joe Biden has thrown its weight behind the bid alongside China, but other pharmaceutical heavyweights including the EU, Britain and Japan are reluctant.
Opponents argue the move will damage intellectual property rights and erode the profit incentive, ultimately affecting pharmaceutical research and development.
Pharmaceutical companies also point out that manufacturing a vaccine requires know-how and technical resources which cannot be acquired at the flip of a switch.
Pandor, speaking by video link from Pretoria, said "millions of people in wealthier nations have been vaccinated, while billions of people in poorer countries still wait and are still vulnerable to infection, disease and death."
Just two percent of global vaccines have been administered in sub-Saharan Africa, according to WHO figures - a situation that Pandor described as a "global gap of vaccine access."
Sixty-three countries have backed the Indian-South African proposal, but unanimity among all 164 WTO member states is needed for agreement.