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This paper gives an ethical argument for temporarily waiving intellectual property (IP) protections for COVID-19 vaccines. It examines two proposals under discussion at the World Trade Organization (WTO): the India/South Africa proposal and the WTO Director General proposal. Section I explains the background leading up to the WTO debate. Section II rebuts ethical arguments for retaining current IP protections, which appeal to benefiting society by spurring innovation and protecting rightful ownership. It sets forth positive ethical arguments for a temporary waiver that appeal to standing in solidarity and holding companies accountable. After examining built-in exceptions to existing agreements and finding them inadequate, the paper replies to objections to a temporary waiver and concludes, in section III, that the ethical argument for temporarily waiving IP protection for COVID-19 vaccines is strong.

Original publication





Journal of medical ethics

Publication Date





595 - 598


Department of Bioethics & Humanities, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington, USA


Humans, Dissent and Disputes, Intellectual Property, COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19 Vaccines