Bulletin of the World Health Organization

Managing the effect of TRIPS on availability of priority vaccines

Julie Milstien & Miloud Kaddar


The stated purpose of intellectual property protection is to stimulate innovation. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires all Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to enact national laws conferring minimum standards of intellectual property protection by certain deadlines. Critics of the Agreement fear that such action is inconsistent with ensuring access to medicines in the developing world. A WHO convened meeting on intellectual property rights and vaccines in developing countries, on which this paper is based, found no evidence that TRIPS has stimulated innovation in developing market vaccine development (where markets are weak) or that protection of intellectual property rights has had a negative effect on access to vaccines. However, access to future vaccines in the developing world could be threatened by compliance with TRIPS. The management of such threats requires adherence of all countries to the Doha Declaration on TRIPS, and the protections guaranteed by the Agreement itself, vigilance on TRIPS-plus elements of free trade agreements, developing frameworks for licensing and technology transfer, and promoting innovative vaccine development in developing countries. The role of international organizations in defining best practices, dissemination of information, and monitoring TRIPS impact will be crucial to ensuring optimal access to priority new vaccines for the developing world.