U.S. backs vaccine patent waiver, WHO hails move as ‘monumental’ in fight against COVID-19

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Cropped hand wearing a nitrile glove holding a Covid-19 vaccine vial and a syringe

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday said the commitment announced by the United States administration to lift vaccine patent protections to help boost global supply, was a “monumental moment” in the battle to end the deadly pandemic.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described the move as a “powerful example of leadership to address global health challenges.”

The U.S. had earlier resisted lobbying to waive protections, but on Wednesday Katharine Tai, the U.S. Trade Representative, released a statement, outlining why the Biden Administration was changing its mind:

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures”, she said.

“The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.

We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the WTO, needed to make this happen,” Tai added.

She outlined that the aim was to get ‘as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people, as fast as possible.’

As a result, of the U.S. decision, the European Union is now willing to discuss a proposal to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.

“The EU is also ready to discuss any proposals that addresses the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday said in a speech to the European University Institute in Florence.

Pharmaceutical trade organizations, however,  have argued that waiving IP rights would stymie innovation.

“This change in longstanding American policy will not save lives,” Stephen Ubl, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said in a statement. He described the waiver as “handing over American innovations to countries looking to undermine our leadership in biomedical discovery.

Speaking before the US announcement, the WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said that the issue of equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, was “both the moral and economic issue of our time.”

Addressing members at Wednesday’s meeting of the trade body, she said all members needed to share their vaccines, either through the international equitable mechanism, COVAX, or other means, and remove export restrictions and prohibitions.

She called on negotiations over the waiver to continue speedily, saying she was convinced a “pragmatic way forward” was possible.

 

Story compiled with assistance from UN News and wire reports

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