The US proposal to release patents for covid-19 vaccines has shaken Europe and caused the first divisions on Thursday. Spain unambiguously supports the proposal to temporarily suspend the intellectual property rules that protect patents within the framework of the World Trade Organization to facilitate equitable and universal access to vaccines. On the other hand, France and, above all, Germany have declared themselves against the proposal of the Joe Biden administration, considering that it will not solve the problem of distribution of vaccines, and could even aggravate it.
The support of the Pedro Sánchez Government for Biden’s proposal has been reflected in an informal document that the Spanish delegation will present at the European summit that is held this Friday and Saturday in Porto. The text states that “intellectual property cannot be an obstacle to ending Covid-19 and guaranteeing equitable and universal access to vaccines.”
Spain calls for “an urgent consensus on the proposal to temporarily lift certain applicable obligations under the aspects of trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPS, in English).” India and South Africa submitted an initiative to the WTO at the end of last year to suspend those obligations, but the proposal had been blocked for months by partners where vaccines are developed such as the EU, the United Kingdom, Switzerland or the United States. of Washington this Wednesday has rekindled the debate and has given renewed hope to those in favor of a liberalization of patents.
“The Biden Administration has openly raised the issue of the temporary exemption from the TRIPS agreement and this announcement marks the way, which India and South Africa have already started in the WTO,” say sources from the Spanish Government.
The road, however, seems less expeditious than Moncloa anticipates. Germany, the country where the most successful vaccine so far (BioNTech / Pfizer) has been developed, has expressed its complete opposition to Biden’s proposal on Thursday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has assured that “the protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and should continue to be so in the future.” Berlin assures that the release of the patents, which would allow any pharmaceutical company to replicate the vaccines, could have “serious implications” for world production.
France, a country that has not managed to develop a vaccine against covid-19 but has major pharmaceutical companies, has also reacted with obvious coldness to Biden’s proposal. “Suspending patents would have no effect today, what is urgent is to export vaccines,” said French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clement Beaume. And he recalled that exporting vaccines “is what the EU does, not the US.”
The European Commission has reacted along the same lines. The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has diplomatically picked up Biden’s glove and has been “willing to debate” any pragmatic proposal to improve the distribution of vaccines in the world. But he recalled that the short-term solution is for all large vaccine producers to allow their export, in clear allusion to countries such as the United States or the United Kingdom that, tactically or expressly, have prevented the delivery of doses from their borders. . The EU, meanwhile, has allowed the export of 200 million doses, as many as have been distributed among the 27 community partners.
The position of Spain, on the other hand, goes much further than that of the European Commission and clearly clashes with that of Berlin and Paris. The document that the Sánchez government takes to the Porto summit defends that “production and access to vaccines must be increased exponentially and urgently.” Spain recalls that some 11,000 million doses are needed to immunize 70% of the world’s population at the rate of two punctures per person. And that with the current level of production (estimated between 6,500 million and 8,500 million doses per year) “there will not be enough vaccines for the entire world population until 2023 or 2024”. The Sánchez executive considers these deadlines unacceptable, both for reasons of justice and equity towards developing countries and for health reasons for the entire planet. “No one will be safe until we are all safe,” says the Spanish document.
Spain proposes that in order to speed up the production process and while the suspension of patents is agreed, “all mechanisms be activated to promote and incentivize voluntary licensing agreements”, which would allow pharmaceutical companies to agree on production conditions among themselves.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.