A year and a half ago, India and South Africa had pushed for waiving intellectual property rights that would allow nations to manufacture greater volumes of Covid-19 vaccines quickly and sell them at affordable rates to low-income nations who are lagging behind in their immunization coverage. As per Our World In Data, only 15.9% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of vaccine so far. This even as considerably low-risk populations in high-income countries have started receiving their booster doses. It cannot be stressed enough that unless the world is protected against Covid-19, we all still remain at risk. On Thursday, PM Narendra Modi again called for making flexible the WTO’s rules relating to trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS) at the second global Covid virtual summit. If the waiver goes through, India can leverage its generic pharmaceutical companies to manufacture vaccines and then distribute them economically at home and to other developing or underdeveloped nations. Indian pharmaceutical sector supplies over 50% of global demand for various vaccines. It is also the largest provider of generic drugs globally. Why is TRIPS waiver stalled?Since hitting deadlock for months after it was tabled in October 2020, with the support of the Joseph Biden administration, many more countries aligned with the proposal introduced by India and South Africa but European Union members remain its principal opponents. In May 2021, a revised waiver proposal was submitted that also applied to “health products and technologies” adding that the waiver should last three years. More than 100 countries, including the US and China support this proposal. But the EU has argued to keep TRIPS’ provisions intact. It says TRIPS Agreement is flexible and does not prevent any country from taking measures to improve its public health. EU has argued in favour of compulsory licensing and removing export restrictions as a way to ensure vaccine equity. Compulsory licensing is "when a government allows someone else to produce a patented product or process without the consent of the patent owner or plans to use the patent-protected invention itself." The case for trade secrets Compulsory licensing is not enough because, for products like vaccines, their manufacturing processes are protected by “trade secrets”. Trade secrets can relate to a particular vaccine’s method of manufacture. They can protect test data, specific (unpatented) medical formulae, cell lines, genomic information and other biological materials. Pharmaceutical companies consider results collected from clinical trials to be trade secrets. Compulsory licensing can help others reproduce small molecule medicines, where reverse engineering can be applied without knowing a specific manufacturing process. Vaccines are complex therapies, and it becomes imperative to know their exact manufacturing process and technology used in order to replicate them. But the manufacturing process itself and the technology are protected under trade secrets. We must remember that vaccine manufacturers are for-profit companies. Those who back big pharma argue that revealing their trade secrets would kill innovation and motivation, and also undermine the companies' efforts at research and development, on which a considerable amount of their budget is spent each year. Also, without recovering cost they will not be able to fund further research into new life-saving products. However, government funding had a big role to play in expediting vaccine manufacturing as far as Covid-19 is concerned. So, a balance between public interest and the health of pharma companies should be negotiated. The TRIPS agreement can make space for such a mechanism, arrive at a trade-off for public health and big pharma. TRIPS Agreement does not explicitly prohibit compulsory licensing of trade secrets, while it also mandates that WTO principles should not come in the way of countries’ right to protect public health. Compulsory licensing without the same extended to trade secrets is not meaningful. As global attention gets diverted to the crisis in Ukraine and domestic problems caused by it, we should not be jolted to act against Covid when cases and deaths rise again. Equitable distribution of vaccines as well as Covid treatments and diagnostic tools cannot take the backseat any longer.