The Trips Agreement and Its Impact on Global Vaccine Access

The World Trade Organization`s (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) has been a topic of controversy since it came into effect in 1995. The agreement, which lays out standards for intellectual property protections and enforcement, including patents, copyrights, and trademarks, has been criticized by many as stifling innovation and hurting developing countries` access to life-saving medicines and vaccines. But what exactly is the Trips Agreement, and how does it affect vaccine access around the world?

The Trips Agreement and Vaccine Patents

One of the main criticisms of the Trips Agreement is that it enables pharmaceutical companies to obtain and enforce patents for their products for extended periods, potentially blocking generic competition and driving up prices in the process. This can make vital medicines and vaccines unaffordable to poor and middle-income countries, where many infectious diseases are prevalent. Before the Trips Agreement, countries could issue compulsory licenses to domestic manufacturers to produce cheaper versions of patented drugs for public health emergencies. However, the Trips Agreement limits the use of compulsory licenses to situations where a national emergency or other circumstances of extreme urgency exist. This has made it harder for countries to access affordable medicines, including vaccines, that are protected by patents.

The Impact of the Trips Agreement on Covid-19 Vaccines

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need for global access to vaccines and the limitations of the Trips Agreement in achieving this goal. As wealthy countries snap up vaccine supplies, poorer countries are left at the back of the queue, with limited access to the life-saving jabs. Critics of the Trips Agreement argue that it has hindered the production and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines by enabling wealthy countries and pharmaceutical companies to prioritize profits over global health. The lack of access to vaccines globally has also led to concerns about the emergence of new variants of Covid-19 that could potentially undermine the efficacy of existing vaccines.

Efforts to Waive the Trips Agreement for Covid-19 Vaccines

In response to the Covid-19 crisis, calls have grown for the Trips Agreement to be waived for Covid-19 vaccines to enable more production and distribution of vaccines globally. The proposal for a temporary waiver of the Trips Agreement for Covid-19 vaccines was first put forward by India and South Africa in October 2020 and has received support from over 100 countries, including the United States under the Biden administration. The waiver would enable countries to produce generic versions of Covid-19 vaccines without fear of patent infringement lawsuits while the pandemic continues.


The Trips Agreement has been a contentious issue in global health for years, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only highlighted its limitations in facilitating global access to life-saving medicines and vaccines. The current efforts to waive the Trips Agreement for Covid-19 vaccines could be a critical step in promoting global vaccine equity and addressing the urgent needs of developing countries. However, it remains to be seen how successful these efforts will be and how the global community can ensure that innovation and access to life-saving technologies are balanced.