Following pressure from charities to support US plans, Britain is pursuing constructive dialogue with the US and other WTO representatives on the subject of IP exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines, according to a government spokesman.
Last week, US President Joe Biden announced his support for waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, reversing a previous US stance.
Britain has not supported the US in its stance, but has stressed its own attempts to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines, with a spokesperson suggesting that an IP waiver alone will not be enough to support the situation.
“We are working constructively with the United States and other WTO members on the TRIPS waiver issue,” a government spokesman told Reuters in an email. “However, we need to move now to increase production and distribution worldwide.”
“Any WTO waiver talks would need unanimous approval, which may take a long time. So, while we will participate constructively in IP negotiations, we must continue to take steps now, including voluntary vaccine licensing agreements.”
Britain has promised to donate surplus vaccines to other countries when it is able to, but says it has no spare shots to give at the moment.
Around 35 million people have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Britain, about two-thirds of the adult population. Britain has ordered 517 million doses of vaccine in all.
Hundreds of charities, academics and politicians this week signed a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling him to back Biden’s move, and on Tuesday protests were planned to coincide with the annual general meeting of AstraZeneca, which is manufacturing the vaccine candidate developed by Oxford University.
AstraZeneca has pledged to not profit from sales of the vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic.