In a major shift on intellectual property rights, the US administration has backed lifting patents of Covid-19 vaccines in order to speed up vaccination of those in need worldwide.
The move would effectively allow any pharmaceuticals manufacturer to produce one or more of the approved vaccines without paying a licence fee.
The EU Commission has not made any statement in reply to that of the Biden Administration, and it is unclear whether it will follow the US example.
“This is a global health crisis and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. 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,” US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement.
Tai added that Washington would actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) needed to make that happen.
“The Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible. As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts – working with the private sector and all possible partners – to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution,” she said.
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations condemned the move in a statement on Wednesday that U.S. President Joe Biden’s support for waiving patents of COVID-19 vaccines was “the wrong answer” to a complex problem.
“Waiving patents of COVID-19 vaccines will not increase production nor provide practical solutions needed to battle this global health crisis. On the contrary, it is likely to lead to disruption; while distracting from addressing the real challenges in scaling up production and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines globally: namely elimination of trade barriers, addressing bottlenecks in supply chains and scarcity of raw materials and ingredients in the supply chain, and a willingness by rich countries to start sharing doses with poor countries,” the Federation said in a statement on Wednesday.
Some analysts thought the move would not mean much in terms of getting vaccines to poorer countries. Prashant Yadav, a supply chain expert and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, said the biggest barrier to increasing the global vaccine supply is a lack of raw materials and facilities that manufacture the billions of doses the world needs. Temporarily suspending some intellectual property, as the U.S. proposes to do, would have little effect on those problems, he said.
EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen announced on Thursday that the EU is ready to discuss any proposal that addresses the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner.
Europe has so far opposed lifting patents. In the midst of the pandemic, the European Commission had said it had no plans to look into Covid-19 vaccine patent options.
The Commission reportedly aims to ramp up production of Covid-19 vaccines through “voluntary” sharing of know-how among pharma companies.
The national committee for the European Citizens’ Initiative (ICE) / European petition “Right2cure – No profit on pandemic” “Right to Care, no profit on the pandemic” has brought together more than 60 groups which call for a suspension of patents on Covid-19 vaccines.