Biden Backs Waiving International Patent Protections For COVID-19 Vaccines

Carrie Guzman
May 6, 2021

United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the government's position in a Wednesday statement, amid World Trade Organization talks over easing global trade rules to enable more countries to produce more of the life-saving vaccines.

The letter says that COVID-19 treatment access can be expanded globally without weakening IP, and weaking IP would hamper American innovation and technology.

"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", Tai said in a statement.

She said the U.S. would participate in negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO), but that this could take some time to resolve. His administration would move as quickly as possible to get as many doses of Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines to export to the rest of the world, Mr Biden said. That included trade partners, health experts and advocates, labor groups and the major vaccine manufacturers. The waiver could also worsen raw material shortages, they've said.

"Right now, those people who received their vaccines early on in the program are getting notified about their second dose, and we've been doing that and we'll continue to do that as more people get up to that three- to four-month mark in the next month". They also argue the main impediments to the rapid expansion of vaccine production are logistical, including various export barriers that countries have imposed. Meanwhile rich nations such as the U.S. have been accused of hoarding vaccine supplies.

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Tai in recent weeks has met with executives from all the major U.S. vaccine producers - Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson - to discuss the issue.

"A waiver is the simple but the wrong answer to what is a complex problem", the Geneva-based International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations lobby group said, describing the USA move as "disappointing". But President Biden had come under increasing pressure to throw his support behind the proposal, including from many congressional Democrats. Ghebreyesus backs the initiative, saying that such waivers are within the powers of the WTO and that it is the flawless time to use them.

It remained unclear how some countries in Europe, which have influential pharmaceutical industries and had previously shared USA reservations about the waiver, would respond.

"Although some flexibility may be warranted in emergency situations, the waiver of TRIPS IP protections requested by India, South Africa, and other countries would do little to improve public health during this critical period in the COVID-19 pandemic".

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