US relents, will back patent waivers on Covid vaccine

Washington: The Biden administration on Tuesday announced it will support waiver of intellectual property protection on Covid-19 vaccines to help end the global coronavirus pandemic, citing “extraordinary times and circumstances call for extraordinary measures”.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai made the announcement after pressure from developing countries and liberal and progressive lawmakers in the US while disclosing that Washington will actively participate in WTO negotiations to make that happen, Times of India reported.

India and South Africa were among the lead countries that had campaigned for the IP waiver. More than 100 US lawmakers had written to President Biden supporting the demand even though an equal number, many bankrolled by the pharma lobby, had opposed it.

“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,” Tai said in a statement.

“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. It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines,” the statement added.

The Biden administration’s decision does not mean vaccines will roll off the assembly lines in the billions needed any time soon. There will be hard negotiations over the fine print at the WTO and it will take pharma companies months to set up or expand manufacturing facilities to crank out the vaccines made by the likes of Pfizer, Moderna, and others that are under patent protection.

But just relenting on IP stranglehold is a start. Stocks of major pharma companies slid on the news but there was general rejoicing on social media at the development.

Image courtesy of (Photo courtesy The Daytona Beach News-Journal)

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