Top U.N. rights body calls for fair, affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines

Stephanie Nebehay
·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Picture illustration of vials with Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, and Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine labels

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Tuesday calling for equitable, affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines and fair pricing.

The text, endorsed by more than 130 countries and adopted by consensus at the Geneva forum, affirmed the right of states to use the flexibility in existing World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on intellectual property for COVID-19 vaccines.

"The EU welcomes that the Council is today able to speak with one voice on the issue of equitable, affordable, timely and universal access to vaccines," Austria's ambassador Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger said on behalf of the European Union.

China also endorsed the resolution, brought by Ecuador and the non-aligned movement. Britain clarified that any measures taken must be in accordance with international law but joined the consensus. The United States, which has observer status, did not co-sponsor the text.

India and South Africa have brought a proposal to the WTO to waive patent rules during the pandemic so to allow generic and other manufacturers to produce COVID-19 vaccines.

India's delegation welcomed the backing for a COVID-19 specific waiver of WTO's so-called TRIPS agreement saying: "We believe all tools for combating the pandemic such as vaccines are a global public good".

"Diplomats assembling tomorrow (Wednesday) at the World Trade Organization's TRIPS Council to consider India and South Africa's proposal to waive some intellectual property rights should follow suit, build consensus, recognise the urgency of the situation and immediately take steps to approve the waiver proposal," John Fisher of Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

But chances of a sudden breakthrough at the WTO appeared slim, observers said.

At the latest WTO meeting earlier this month, richer members blocked a push by over 80 developing countries to waive patent rights in an effort to boost production of COVID-19 vaccines for poor nations.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alex Richardson and Giles Elgood)