Intellectual property rules for vaccines
The Biden administration is throwing its support behind efforts to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to speed the end of the pandemic. United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the government's position in a 6 May 2021 statement, amid World Trade Organisation talks over easing global trade rules to enable more countries to produce more of the life-saving vaccines.
- 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.
- But it would take time to reach the required global "consensus" to waive the protections under WTO rules, and US officials said it would not have an immediate effect on the global supply of COVID-19 shots.
- This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.
- The administration's aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible.
- The WTO's General Council -- made up of ambassadors -- was taking up the pivotal issue of a temporary waiver for intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines and other tools, which South Africa and India first proposed in October.
- The idea has gained support in the developing world and among some progressive lawmakers in the West.
- WTO panel on intellectual property was set to take up the waiver proposal again at a tentative meeting later this month, before a formal meeting June 8-9.
- Proponents, including WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, note that such waivers are part of the WTO toolbox and insist there's no better time to use them than during the once-in-a-century pandemic that has taken 3.2 million lives, infected more than 437 million people and devastated economies.
- More than 100 countries have come out in support of the proposal, and a group of 110 members of Congress -- all fellow Democrats of Biden -- sent him a letter in April that called on him to support the waiver.