WTO boss urges action to boost COVID-19 vaccine production

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The World Trade Organization’s chief on Tuesday called for urgent action on boosting COVID-19 vaccine production in developing countries, saying manufacturing sites could be prepared in six to seven months or less than half the time previously thought.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian finance minister who was until recently chair of the board of global vaccine alliance GAVI, took on the top job of the global trade watchdog last week. She has said health and vaccine access would be a top priority.

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“The fact is that each additional day the vaccine shortage continues, people will pay with their lives,” Okonjo-Iweala said at a two-day summit focused on COVID-19 vaccine production, adding that around 130 countries were still waiting for vaccines.

WTO members are due to discuss a possible waiver for intellectual property rights for COVID-19 drugs on Wednesday that could allow producers in more countries to begin manufacturing shots.

However, talks are currently deadlocked with several wealthy countries opposing the waiver, saying it would undermine the expensive research that allowed the production of COVID-19 vaccines in the first place.

Okonjo-Iweala said pandemic-related export restrictions had fallen in recent months, urging countries to drop or reduce the remaining ones or set timelines for their phase-out to help minimize problems in the vaccine supply chain.

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