‘Monumental’: US backs waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines
The Biden administration said it will back an effort to waive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines that has been proposed as a way to make the vaccines more available and affordable for developing countries.
In a statement, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the administration’s support for the so-called TRIPS waiver — a proposal being discussed by the World Trade Organization’s Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights that calls for temporarily suspending certain protections during the pandemic to allow more manufacturers to produce the vaccines.
The proposal was written by India and South Africa and has been cosponsored by a number of other countries.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” Tai said in a statement. “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 U.S. “will actively participate in text-based negotiations” about the waiver but cautioned that negotiations “will take time.”
“The administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible,” Tai said. “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 announcement garnered support, including from WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, who called it a “monumental moment” in the fight against COVID-19.
“I commend the U.S. for this historic decision for vaccine equity, prioritizing the well-being of all people everywhere at a critical time,” he said in a statement. “Now let's all move together swiftly, in solidarity, building on the ingenuity and commitment of scientists who produced life-saving COVID-19 vaccines.”
Others were critical of the decision, including former FDA acting chief scientist Luciana Borio, MD, who advised the Biden-Harris transition team on COVID-19.
“Sadly, this action won't help get more vaccines available to the world. There is no reason to celebrate,” Borio, who is vice president of technical staff at the nonprofit venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, tweeted. “We wouldn't have our amazing vaccines without U.S. innovative companies. These vaccines are hard to develop and manufacture, and our companies do that most efficiently.”