EU presents plan to boost vaccine output

It will focus on export restrictions, pledges from developers and use of existing WTO rules

The EU put forward a plan on Wednesday to help boost production and availability of Covid-19 vaccines more effectively than a proposed waiver of patent rights now backed by the US, news wires reported. The plan will focus on export restrictions, pledges from vaccine developers and use of existing WTO rules.

"Universal and fair access to vaccines and treatments must be the global community's number one priority," Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis told the European Parliament. In a debate on global vaccine access, he told MEPs that the EU was ready to engage in examining the extent to which temporarily waiving the WTO's TRIPS agreement contributed to expanding vaccine availability.

India and South Africa have urged fellow WTO members since October to lift IP rights to vaccines as a way of ensuring the world is supplied. Debate around the issue erupted anew last week when U.S. President Joe Biden supported the idea. However, the Commission VP said the single most effective way to achieve universal access was to ramp up production, share vaccines more widely and faster and make them affordable.

Dombrovskis said the EU plan had three elements. Export restrictions should be kept to a minimum, highlighting that the EU had exported half of vaccines produced in EU countries. Vaccine producers and developers should make concrete pledges to increase supply to vulnerable developing countries at production cost, he pointed out. And finally, Dombrovskis highlighted existing WTO rules allowing countries to grant "compulsory licenses" to manufacturers ready to produce at cost price without the consent of the patent-holder, which could receive a payment, but not make a profit.

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