The United States has declared its support for a patent exemption on Covid-19 vaccines to boost their production and distribution around the world.
The waiver will not take place immediately, as it must be approved by consensus at the World Trade Organization (WTO), but the Biden administration’s decision to support a waiver will have a strong influence on the outcome of that decision.
“This is a global health crisis,” Katherine Tai, the US trade representative, said in a written statement. “The extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.
“The administration strongly believes in intellectual property protections, but in the service of ending this pandemic, it supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines. We will actively participate in the text-based negotiations in the WTO necessary to make that happen. “
The announcement was quickly hailed by WTO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as “a powerful example of US leadership in addressing global health challenges.”
“I congratulate the US on this landmark decision for vaccine equity, prioritizing the well-being of all people around the world at a critical time,” said Tedros. “Now let’s all move together quickly, in solidarity, harnessing the ingenuity and commitment of the scientists who produced the life-saving Covid-19 vaccines.”
The decision was announced during a two-day WTO meeting. India and South Africa have been backing a waiver proposal since October, with the support of about 100 emerging economies, but rich countries have been blocking a debate on the issue at the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights council ( Travel) of the WTO.
There is still resistance to a patent exemption in the European Union and Switzerland. A meeting of G7 foreign ministers in London failed to agree on a common position on the issue. A G7 action plan called for increased funding for a UN-administered distribution plan, Covax, and voluntary technology transfer and licensing agreements.
Opponents of the exemption within the administration had argued that it was not the main bottleneck in production and distribution and that its passage could have a chilling effect on incentives for drug companies to produce rapid vaccines in the future. Advocates argued that it was an essential step toward greater equity in vaccine distribution and proof of America’s leadership under Joe Biden.
Today, one in four people in rich countries has received at least one dose of the vaccine. In low-income nations, the ratio is about one in 500 people. “Adoption of this exemption is critical to disseminating vaccine technology in low- and middle-income nations so that all people around the world can access vaccines and treatment as quickly as possible,” Paul O’Brien, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said.
“By reversing the position of the previous administration, President Biden has made it clear that the United States prioritizes the lives of the people over the profits of the pharmaceutical companies.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism