WHO Executive Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Wednesday hailed the Biden administration’s support for waiving intellectual property rights as an example of “leadership to address global health challenges.”
US President Joe Biden has faced increased pressure to back a World Trade Organization (WTO) proposal to waive patents, a move that would allow more countries to manufacture much-needed COVID-19 jabs.
“Now let’s all act together quickly, in solidarity, building on the ingenuity and commitment of the scientists who produced # COVID19 vaccines that save lives,” Tedros tweeted.
It’s a monumental moment in the fight against # COVID-19[FEMALE[FEMININE. The commitment of @POTUS Joe Biden & @USTradeRep @AmbassadorTai Supporting the waiver of intellectual property protections on vaccines is a powerful example of leadership in addressing global health challenges. pic.twitter.com/3iBt3jfdEr
– Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) May 5, 2021
Biden, who has overseen a rapid deployment of COVID-19 vaccines in the United States, has faced growing calls to do more to support global vaccine equity and share the country’s vaccine supply with other countries hard hit.
Dozens of countries, as well as rights groups, former world leaders and public health experts, have stepped up calls for patent waivers in recent weeks amid a deadly outbreak of COVID-19 in many countries.
In a statement earlier Tuesday, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said Washington would begin negotiations with the WTO on waivers.
“These negotiations will take time given the consensual nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues at stake,” Tai said.
Over the weekend, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said Tai was going to speak to the WTO “on how we can make this vaccine more widely available. distributed, more widely authorized, more widely shared ”.
Mike Hanna of Al Jazeera, of Washington, DC, said Biden had come under pressure from members of his own Democratic Party to support patent waivers for vaccines.
“This is something President Biden promised during his campaign,” Hanna said. “However, since taking office there has also been a lot of pressure from the other side, from many pharmaceutical companies, not to apply this waiver.”
He added that the WTO, which operates on a consensual basis, must now meet to negotiate a text on which all member countries should agree.
“Obviously there is a lot of work… before this becomes a reality. But the decision of the Biden administration is something that gives this immense momentum, ”Hanna said.
In October last year, South Africa and India submitted a WTO request to waive intellectual property rights over vaccines and other medical technologies needed to fight the coronavirus. More than 100 other countries have since supported this call.
Given the current context of global emergency, it is important that WTO Members work together to ensure that intellectual property rights such as patents, industrial designs, copyright and copyright. protection of undisclosed information does not create barriers to timely access to affordable medical products, ”reads the October letter.
The request for waivers has become urgent as several countries, including India, face devastating outbreaks of COVID-19.
In April, the non-governmental organization Médecins Sans Frontières called on rich countries to “stand on the right side of history and join those who support” the waiver of patents.
After the US announcement, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations said waiving COVID-19 vaccine patents was “the wrong answer” to a complex problem and called for more technology transfer agreements, Reuters news agency reported.
“Relinquishing patents on COVID-19 vaccines will not increase production or provide the practical solutions needed to tackle this global health crisis. On the contrary, it risks causing disruption, ”IFPMA, which represents research-based pharmaceutical companies, said in a statement.
But others hailed the Biden administration’s move, with UK Labor MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy call on the British government “to obtain an intellectual property exemption to accelerate the deployment of vaccines in low-income countries and limit the risk of the emergence of new variants”.