This exemption could significantly boost vaccine production around the world by removing patents, copyrights and protections for industrial designs and confidential information.
This could mean easier access to vaccines for people living in poorer and middle-income countries, many of whom have been at the end of the line while others, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Uni, were able to immunize a large number of their own people.
It’s an issue that has become more urgent with the outbreak of cases in India, the second most populous country in the world.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has repeatedly urged the world to support the proposal, which was originally submitted to the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October of l ‘last year.
After the Biden administration’s announcement, he said on Twitter: “This is a monumental moment in the fight against COVID-19.
“The commitment of (Joe Biden and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai) to support waiving intellectual property protections on vaccines is a prime example of US leadership in addressing global health challenges. “
More than 100 countries support the proposal, and Mr Biden has come under increasing pressure from a group in Congress – all of his fellow Democrats who supported the waiver.
Supporters of the move say it is already part of the tools of the WTO and that there is no better time to use it than during a pandemic that has killed 3.2 million people, infected over 400 million more and ruined economies around the world.
Earlier, Ms Tai said: “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.
“The goal of administration is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. “
But those who oppose it say vaccine production is difficult, and the process of immunizing the world cannot be sped up simply by relaxing intellectual property laws.
They also say lifting these intellectual property protections could hurt future innovation – companies can spend a lot of money researching such breakthroughs and they rely on the protections to make sure their work isn’t. then copied by others for easy profit.
Ms Tai also warned that it will take time to reach the global consensus needed to forgo WTO protections, and officials said the effect on vaccine supply would not be immediate.
Also on Wednesday, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala addressed a private meeting of ambassadors from developing and developed countries on the issue.
WTO spokesman Keith Rockwell said countries agree on the need for wider access to COVID-19 vaccines and that a panel has been set up to discuss the proposal when of a “provisional” meeting later this month ahead of a formal meeting in early June.
Consensus might take some time, but Mr Rockwell said there had been a recent change in tone after months of discussions, adding that the discussion was now “much more constructive, pragmatic”.
“It was less emotional and less singled out than in the past,” he said.
“I think that feeling of everyone-to-be-together was expressed in a way that I hadn’t heard until now. ”