The European Union is ready to discuss a proposal to waive intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday as drugmakers battled for their land as the price of their shares fell.
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday expressed support for a waiver in a sharp turnaround in the US stance, and his top trade negotiator, Katherine Tai, was quick to support negotiations at the World Trade Organization.
The World Health Organization said in April that out of 700 million vaccines administered worldwide, only 0.2% were administered in low-income countries. A recent outbreak of infections in India, the second most populous country in the world, underscored this point.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hit capital letters in a tweet calling Biden’s decision a “MONUMENTAL MOMENT IN THE FIGHT AGAINST # COVID19”, and said it reflected “the wisdom and moral leadership of states -United “.
Von der Leyen, speaking to the European University Institute in Florence, said the European Union was ready to discuss any proposal aimed at resolving the crisis “in an efficient and pragmatic way”.
“That is why we are ready to discuss how the US proposal for the waiver on intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines could help achieve this goal.” “
Brian Skorney, an analyst for wealth manager Robert W. Baird, said he believed the waiver discussion amounted to a demonstration by the Biden administration, and doubted it would have “any kind of broader long-term impact in the industry ”.
Drugmakers have said Biden’s move could disrupt a fragile supply chain and urged wealthy countries to share vaccines more generously with the developing world.
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations said a waiver would invite new manufacturers who lack essential know-how and oversight. Read more
As the main Wall Street indices opened flat on Thursday, shares of vaccine makers fell. Moderna (MRNA.O) was down 9.1% at 13:51 GMT. Pfizer (PFE.N) was down 3.6% and Novavax (NVAX.O) was down 6.2%. In London, AstraZeneca (AZN.L), which sold its vaccine at cost, is down less than 0.1%.
More than 155 million people are believed to have been infected with the coronavirus and nearly 3.4 million have died, according to a Reuters tally. Read more
The United States has the highest number of confirmed cases with 32.6 million, followed by India with more than 21 million.
Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said Italy supported the suspension of patents and Europe needed to be courageous.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he was “very favorable” to the opening up of intellectual property. However, a French government official said the lack of vaccines was the result of a lack of production capacity and upstream components, and not of patents.
“I remind you that it is the United States that has not exported a single dose to other countries and is now talking about lifting the patents,” said the official.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said he shares Biden’s goal of providing vaccines to the world.
South Africa and India made the initial WTO waiver proposal in October, garnering support from many developing countries, who say it’s a vital step in making vaccines more widely available.
So far, the European Union has aligned itself with a group of countries, including Britain and Switzerland home to large pharmaceutical companies, which have opposed the waiver.
They say it would undermine incentives for manufacturers – who have produced coronavirus vaccines in record time – to do so during a future pandemic. They also claim that waiving patents would not instantly solve a shortage of manufacturing capacity.
UK Trade Secretary Liz Truss did not mention the waiver, but said Britain was working at the WTO to resolve the issue.
The manufacture of vaccines is complicated, as evidenced by the production problems encountered by several manufacturers, and would also require a transfer of technology, know-how and personnel.
Von der Leyen said that in the short term, the EU urges all vaccine-producing countries to allow exports and avoid measures that disrupt supply chains.
A Commission spokesperson said the comment was not aimed at any particular country.
South Africa and India have announced that they will revise their waiver proposal ahead of upcoming WTO meetings on the subject later in May and June 8-9.
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