The United States has declared its support for a patent waiver 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 look into 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 the end of this pandemic, it supports the waiver of these protections for Covid-19 vaccines. We will actively participate in the text-based negotiations at the WTO necessary to make this happen. “
The announcement was quickly hailed by WTO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as “a powerful example of American leadership in addressing global health challenges”.
“I congratulate the United States on this historic move in favor of vaccine equity, prioritizing the well-being of all people everywhere at a critical time,” said Tedros. “Now, let’s all act together quickly, in solidarity, building on the ingenuity and commitment of the scientists who produced the life-saving Covid-19 vaccines.”
The decision was announced at a two-day WTO meeting. India and South Africa have been backing a waiver proposal since October, with backing from around 100 emerging economies, but rich countries have blocked a debate on the issue at the WTO council on aspects of intellectual property rights related to trade.
There is still resistance to a patent waiver 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 system, Covax, and for voluntary licensing and technology transfer agreements.
Opponents of the waiver within the administration had argued that it was not the main bottleneck on production and distribution and that its approval could have a chilling effect on incentives for pharmaceutical companies to produce. rapid vaccines in the future. Supporters argued that this was a critical step towards greater fairness in vaccine distribution and a test of US leadership under Joe Biden.
Today, one in four people in wealthy countries has received at least one dose of the vaccine. In low-income countries, the ratio is around one in 500 people. “Adoption of this waiver is essential to disseminate vaccine technology in middle-income and low-income countries, so that all people in the the whole world can access vaccines and treatment as quickly as possible, ”Paul O’Brien, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said.
“In reversing the position of the previous administration, President Biden made it clear that the United States puts the lives of people first over the profits of drug companies.”