Thursday, March 11, 2021

Vaccine waiver proposal blocked at WTO (March 11, 2021)

 Richer members of the World Trade Organization blocked a push by over 100 developing countries yesterday to waive patent rights in an effort to boost production of COVID-19 vaccines for poor nations. South Africa and India made the waiver proposal, which is supported by over 375 civil society organizations. It was opposed by several Western countries, including Britain, Switzerland, EU nations and the United States, which have large domestic pharmaceutical industries. (Reuters)

The temporary waiver would apply to certain IP on COVID-19 medical tools and technologies until herd immunity is reached, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, which supports the proposal. The waiver would allow all countries globally to collaborate on the Covid-19 response, including vaccine development and distribution, without being unduly hampered by the complexity of laws and restrictions governing intellectual property, according to Human Rights Watch. "The waiver would allow more international collaboration in the manufacture of the vaccines and other medical products – without authorization from the companies that created them – and could speed production and availability of vaccines worldwide."

Yesterday was WTO's eighth discussion on the topic since it was first raised in October of last year -- proposals need backing by a consensus of the WTO’s 164 members to pass. WTO director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said manufacturers should come together with bodies such as the World Health Organization and vaccines alliance GAVI, whose board she used to chair, and business associations to look into options.

Unless much greater volumes are made, many people in developing nations may not get COVID-19 vaccines until 2024. (Health Gap)

Opponents of the waiver say they seek to protect the investment pharmaceutical companies made to develop the vaccines. They argue that protecting intellectual property rights encourages research and innovation, and suspending those rights would not result in a sudden surge of vaccine supply.

But advocates say the human and economic costs of delayed vaccination will affect rich and poor countries. "A me-first approach might serve short-term political interests, but it is self-defeating and will lead to a protracted recovery, with trade and travel continuing to suffer," wrote World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in the Guardian recently. "The threat is clear: as long as the virus is spreading anywhere, it has more opportunities to mutate and potentially undermine the efficacy of vaccines everywhere. We could end up back at square one."

Brazil was among the countries that opposed the waiver proposal, though it is experiencing its worst Covid-19 surge since the start of the pandemic. (Rio Times)

More Vaccines
  • Mexico is turning to China to fill a vaccine shortfall with an order for 22 million doses, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said earlier this week, a week after U.S. President Joe Biden ruled out sharing vaccines with Mexico in the short term. (Reuters)
  • Nearly 2.3 million COVAX doses will arrive in at least seven countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the next days and weeks,  PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne said yesterday. The countries include Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Peru.
  • COVAX, a program run by the WHO, promises to deliver 35.3 million doses to the region by the end of June. In several countries, this will initiate the vaccination process. AS/COA has an explainer on the initiative, which delivered  117,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to Colombia last week, and was scheduled to make a delivery to Peru yesterday.
  • AS/COA recently updated its timeline on vaccinations in Latin America, including efficacy rates, regulatory approval and which countries have contracts to secure the jabs.
  • Chile has become the region's major vaccine success story: a quarter of the population has received at least the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine. Chile's strategy combined deals with diverse vaccine makers, and a strong primary health care system, reports Vox.
News Briefs

  • The pandemic has been generally detrimental to global conservation efforts, reports the Guardian. Brazil, India and the US have emerged as “hotspots” for cuts to environmental protections during the pandemic, with all three among several countries considering proposals to allow mining and fossil fuel extraction in protected areas. A survey of park rangers in more than 60 countries found that about one in five had lost their jobs because of pandemic-related budget cuts, with those in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia worst affected.
  • Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva excoriated the current government's pandemic policies in a fiery speech yesterday that marks his return to politics after a Supreme Court judge annulled a series of criminal convictions against him earlier this week. (See Tuesday's post.) Lula blamed current President Jair Bolsonaro for the scale of Covid-19 impact in Brazil: “This country is in a state of utter tumult and confusion because there’s no government. I’ll repeat that: this-country-has-no-government,” Lula said, speaking at the metalworkers union headquarters in São Bernardo do Campo, where his political career started in the 1970s. (Guardian)
  • Lula did not announce a presidential bid for next year's election, but analysts widely expect him to run against Bolsonaro. Lula described a more optimistic path forward for the country where racism could be “abolished”, the economy boom, the LGBT community and different faiths be respected, women not be “trampled on” and where “young people can wander around freely without worrying about getting shot." (Guardian)
  • Reports that children were among those killed in a Colombian military attack on rebel camp have fueled deep outrage in the country, reports the New York Times. Colombia’s defense minister said that “young combatants,” who had been recruited and transformed into “machines of war” by criminal actors, were present at a military operation meant to target a violent armed group. He would not confirm the ages of the 12 people killed in the strike. News reports say at least one 9-year-old girl was killed.
  • Mexican approved a bill last night to legalize recreational marijuana. The bill, passed in general terms, is still subject to revision, but would allow adults to smoke marijuana and grow limited cannabis plants at home. It would also grant licenses for producers — from small farmers to commercial growers — to cultivate and sell the crop. The 316-to-129 vote in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies came more than two years after the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that the country’s ban on recreational marijuana was unconstitutional, reports the New York Times.
  • The U.S. Biden administration took steps yesterday to address surging migration to the border with Mexico. Roberta S. Jacobson, a special assistant to the president overseeing border issues, announced the restart of an Obama-era program that allowed children in Central America to apply for protection in the region and avoid making the dangerous journey north to join parents already in the United States, reports the New York Times.
  • The Biden administration's immediate suspension of the Migrant Protection Protocols elicited enormous relief among the more than 15,000 migrants who have been allowed to await asylum proceedings in the U.S. instead of Mexican refugee camps. But the move comes too late for most of the 41,247 migrants whose cases were rejected while they “remained in Mexico," writes Austin Kocher in the Conversation.
  • Haitian gang leader Arnel Joseph, who was killed after a deadly Haiti prison break last month, may have been sprung intentionally — raising further concerns about toxic relationships between gangs and political elites in the run-up to new elections, reports InSight Crime.
El Salvador
  • Preliminary results for El Salvador's legislative elections have shifted slightly —  President Nayib Bukele's Nuevas Ideas appears one seat short of acquiring the majority needed to pass legislation without any negotiation, but by working with their allies in GANA, the president would still have a clear path to a supermajority, affording Nuevas Ideas broad leeway to implement their agenda, reports El Faro.
  • Guatemalan Judge Erika Aifán is known for the numerous high-stakes corruption cases that have passed through her courtroom -- and is under constant attack as a result. The 45-year-old judge convicted nine businessmen on charges of bribing former government minister Alejandro Sinibaldi, for example, and ordered the ministers to apologize to the people of Guatemala and donate 35 million Quetzals toward public works as compensation for the damage they caused to the country. El Faro profiles her efforts and the backlash she's faced.
  • Guyana government officials said a 14 billion cubic feet flaring quota for ExxonMobil’s Liza-1 project, recently cited by vice president Bharrat Jagdeo, is, in fact, not in its environmental permit. The company maintained that it never used the figure to justify its flaring, reports Stabroek News. (See last week's Just Caribbean Updates.)
  • Argentina has an energy conundrum, according to Bloomberg. Fracking could be its ticket out of a years-long economic crisis. But following that path will make it much harder to meet its 19 percent Paris Agreement emissions cut target.
  • Violence against women remains devastatingly pervasive and starts alarmingly young, according to a new report by the World Health Organization. Across their lifetime, 1 in 3 women, around 736 million, are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner – a number that has remained largely unchanged over the past decade. Lifetime prevalence of intimate partner violence among women aged 15-49 in Latin America and the Caribbean was 25 percent.
  • Women are "on the frontlines" of the fight against Covid-19, but underrepresented in global and national health leadership, said Pan American Health Organization director Carissa Etienne on International Women's Day. "Women make up the great majority of healthcare workers. They head households and are the main providers for many of those households -- much of this is unpaid work and in the informal labor workforce," she noted. (Caribbean News Service)
  • The pandemic is worsening gender inequalities in the Caribbean labor market, according to an IDB report. More single-headed female households reported going to bed hungry or eating less healthy than men. There was also a reported rise in domestic violence towards women, particularly amongst lower-income households and especially in Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

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