The Joe Biden administration in the United States on Wednesday announced support for waiving patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines.
The move came after the US came under intense pressure to waive protections for vaccine manufacturers, especially amid criticism that rich nations were hoarding Covid-19 vaccines. India and South Africa have been leading the fight within the World Trade Organization to allow more drugmakers to manufacture the vaccines.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement. “The [Biden] administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines.”
World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus appreciated the move. In a tweet, he referred to the move as a “monumental moment” and that it was “a powerful example of United States’ leadership to address global health challenges”.
Last month it had come to public knowledge that a group of over 170 world leaders and Nobel Prize winners urged Biden support the waiver. India and South Africa had moved this proposal at the World Trade Organization in October last year. However, the United States and several other countries blocked negotiations on the proposal at the trade body, according to Reuters.
However, the change in US’ stance would take time to come to a conclusion. The waiving of patents is a long-drawn process and will not come into effect immediately as World Trade Organisation decisions require a consensus of all 164 members, according to Reuters. In her statement, Tai cautioned said that negotiations “will take time given the consensus-based nature” of the trade body. For months now, the WTO has been facing calls to temporarily remove the intellectual property protections on Covid-19 vaccines, known as a TRIPS waiver in reference to the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property.
Meanwhile, following the US administration’s move, shares of vaccine makers Moderna and Novavax Inc dropped sharply, while those of Pfizer fell slightly, Reuters reported. Geneva-based International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations lobby group described the move as disappointing and said that waiver was “the simple but the wrong answer to what is a complex problem”, AFP reported.
India appreciates Biden’s decision to back waiver
India said it appreciates the Biden administration’s decision to support the proposal, reported PTI.
India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu also expressed his gratitude to the US Senators and Congresspersons who supported the proposal. “We will continue to work with all stakeholders in the US to collectively fight the global pandemic including through equitable distribution of affordable vaccines for global public health at this critical juncture,” Sandhu said.
Sandhu had reached out to the members of the House and Senate. This was reflected in the series of letters that the legislators wrote to President Biden in support of the proposal.
In recent months, the ambassador had spoken to Senators Ed Markey and Raphael Warnock, Congresspersons Katherine Clark and Gregory Meeks, Pramila Jayapal, Jan Schakowsky and Ro Khanna on the matter.