A Coronavirus patient takes oxygen in Khayelitsha Hospital, near Cape Town, South Africa, December 29, 2020 (Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty)
The Biden Administration supports patent waivers for Coronavirus vaccines, as the pandemic surges from India to Brazil to Iran and global cases set weekly records.
The US had opposed a proposal for the waivers, drafted by India and South Africa, at the World Trade Organization. But on Wednesday afternoon, Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced:
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 the US will be involved in WTO negotiations but will “take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved”.
The European Union has opposed removal of waivers, and changes in international intellectual property rules must have unanimous support.
The pharmaceutical industry assailed Tai’s statement. Stephen Ubl, the president and chief executive of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said it is “an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety…handing over American innovations to countries looking to undermine our leadership in biomedical discovery”.
But public health activists gave enthusiastic backing. Priti Krishtel, an executive director of the Initiative for Medicines, Access & Knowledge, cited “a truly historic step, which shows that President Biden is committed to being not just an American leader, but a global one”.
The activists added that the waivers should be accompanied by “tech transfer”, in which patent holders supply technical know-how and personnel, and an escalation in manufacturing around the world.
Médecins Sans Frontières applauded a “bold” decision during a time of “unprecedented global need”.
“A Moral Obligation”
India and South Africa proposed the waiver last fall. The Trump Administration objected, along with the UK and the European Union.
But last weekend the White House’s top coronavirus expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, supported waivers in discussions with Trade Representative Tai. He noted in interviews:
The only way that you’re going to adequately respond to a global pandemic is by having a global response, and a global response means equity throughout the world.
And that’s something that, unfortunately, has not been accomplished.
India set a global record of 412,262 cases on Thursday. Deaths reached 3,980, a rise of more than 4,000% from the level of 89 at the start of March.
Brazil reached 4,249 deaths on April 8 before easing by about 1/3 in the past month. Iran’s death rate also quadrupled from the start of March.
Fauci said on Wednesday, “”I believe we have a moral obligation to make sure that the rest of the world does not suffer and die, as it were, from something that we can help them with and help to prevent.”