Vaccine nationalism and equitable access to COVID-19 pharmaceuticals: TRIPS Agreement under trial (again)

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Purpose – The purpose of this study is to contribute towards the debate about global access to COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
Design/methodology/approach – The global scramble for COVID-19 vaccine and other related pharmaceutical products have once again exposed the limitations of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). High-income countries are claiming a lion’s share of the first available batches of the COVID-19 vaccine in total disregard of the consequences such approach would have on the low-income countries that lack both the manufacturing wherewithal and the financial resources to purchase the vaccine and other products needed to combat the pandemic. This paper reviews the existing TRIPS Flexibilities and analyses their limitations with respect to equitable access of pharmaceutical products in times of health emergencies. This paper then considers the unique challenges that have been brought to the fore by the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, this paper analytically explores some options that have been
proposed so far that the World Trade Organization (WTO) or governments can take in the immediate to near term to facilitate equitable access to COVID-19 pharmaceutical products and technologies. This research is non-empirical, desk-based research. It is, therefore, based on the literature review of existing body of work that is relevant to the topic under discussion. Mindful of the epistemological challenges that are always associated with desk-based research, part of the methodology of this work is to seek support from related empirical studies based on different philosophical underpinnings but that confirm the working hypothesis of this research.
Findings – This paper finds that there is still a need for a comprehensive reform of TRIPS Agreement to streamline the voluntary licencing system which is an important tool for low-income countries’ access to affordable pharmaceuticals. However, for purposes of dealing with COVID-19, WTO members should consider establishing pooled Licencing Facilities and procurement strategies via already existing political, economic or regional trade groupings.
Originality/value – This research is original. All sources have been acknowledged. This research synthesises different research papers and applies different viewpoints to the debate on the impact of the TRIPS Agreement on equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)166-183
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of International Trade Law and Policy
Issue number3
Early online date27 Sep 2021
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2021


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