The Biden administration has backed a proposal to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents,;a move that would allow more countries to manufacture jabs to help “speed the end of the pandemic”.
United States Trade Representative, Katherine Tai announced the government’s position,;amid World Trade Organization (WTO) talks about a possible temporary waiver.
“The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic,;supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines”.
She cautioned that it would take time to reach the required global “consensus” to waive the protections under WTO rules,;and it would also not have an immediate effect on the global supply of COVID-19 shots.
“Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved”.
Her announcement came hours after WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala spoke;to a closed-door meeting of ambassadors from developing and developed countries who have been;deliberating the issue.
The WTO’s General Council took up the issue of a temporary waiver for intellectual property protections;on COVID-19 vaccines and other tools in October last year. The issue was first proposed by South Africa and India and has gained support among some lawmakers in the West.
More than 100 countries have also come out in support of the proposal, and a group of 110 Democrats in Congress sent President Joe Biden a letter last month calling on him to support the waiver.
‘A monumental moment’ in fight against COVID
Following the US’ announcement, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, welcomed the decision by the United States to back intellectual property waivers for coronavirus vaccines.
He called the decision “a monumental moment” in the fight against the deadly virus and commended the Biden administration’s support for waiving intellectual property rights as an example of “leadership to address global health challenges”.
“Now let’s all move together swiftly, in solidarity, building on the ingenuity & commitment of scientists who produced life-saving COVID19 vaccines.”
Dozens of countries, as well as human rights groups, former world leaders, Nobel laureates and public health experts, have stepped up calls for the patent waiver in recent weeks amid a deadly COVID-19 surge in several countries.
In a statement, Doctors without Borders (MSF), one of the groups calling for the waiver, applauded what it called a “bold” decision during a time of “unprecedented global need”. The group added that the waiver should be broadly applied.
“It is crucial that this waiver not just apply to preventative vaccines, but it should also cover other medical tools for COVID-19, including treatments for people who fall ill and diagnostics to help curb the spread, as originally proposed seven months ago”.
However, reacting to the US’ announcement in a statement, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), said waiving patents on COVID-19 vaccines was “the wrong answer” to a complex problem and called for more technology transfer agreements.
“Waiving patents of COVID-19 vaccines will not increase production nor provide practical solutions needed to battle this global health crisis. On the contrary, it is likely to lead to disruption”.