OECD chief says IP rights on vaccines not main issue in COVID-19 fight

OECD’s incoming Secretary-General and former Australian Finance Minister Mathias Cormann delivers a speech at a handover ceremony during which he takes on the role of Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) from outgoing Secretary-General Angel Gurria at the OECD headquarters in Paris, France, June 1, 2021. Ian Langsdon/Pool via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) – The suspension of intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines is not the main challenge in the race to get vaccines distributed around the world, new OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said on Tuesday.

Asked whether an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development ministerial council meeting had discussed the possibility of suspending pharmaceutical companies’ IP rights on coronavirus vaccines they had developed, Cormann told reporters that there were other priorities

“In terms of how best to ensure that we can guarantee a rollout of the vaccines on a worldwide basis, there are many issues that are more important … and in particular making sure that we have effective production and distribution mechanisms in place,” Cormann said.

Earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, bowing to mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers and more than 100 other countries, but angering pharmaceutical companies.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) held talks this week about an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines but there has been little progress towards a possible deal, despite Washington’s backing for the idea.

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