US backs plan to suspend Covid vaccine patents during pandemic

The United States has supported a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights to Covid-19 vaccines in a measure that could anger the pharmaceutical industry, which strongly opposes a so-called waiver.

Joe Biden’s senior business adviser, Katherine Tai, said that if the US administration “strongly believes” in protecting intellectual property, it will support a waiver of these rules for vaccines.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” Tai said in a statement.

Shares of major coronavirus vaccine companies were affected by Wednesday’s announcement. Shares of Moderna, BioNTech and Novavax fell 5-7 percent in New York exchanges, while Pfizer’s share price fell nearly 1 percent before recovering.

The companies did not immediately respond to the request for comment.

A measure allowing countries to temporarily waive patent rights for pandemic-related medical products was proposed to the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October, and has since been supported by close from 60 countries.

Donald Trump’s administration strongly opposed the WTO waiver, alongside the UK, EU and Switzerland, but Tai had shaken US pharmaceutical companies by reconsidering this position.

Tai said the United States would “actively participate” in text-based negotiations at the WTO, but that these negotiations would take time given the consensual nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues at stake.

“As our vaccine supply to the American people is secured, the administration will continue to intensify its efforts – working with the private sector and all possible partners – to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution,” Tai said.

“This will also increase the raw materials needed for the production of these vaccines,” she added.

Tai and her staff have discussed WTO intellectual property rules in recent weeks with leaders of pharmaceutical and vaccine companies, labor unions, advocacy groups, and Seth Berkley, chief executive of the supported vaccine alliance. by the UN, Gavi.

In a speech at a WTO vaccine equity meeting earlier this month, Tai said both government and the private sector should do their part to “keep up” the “spirit” of trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights. (Trips) agreement, born out of the HIV crisis.

Gregg Gonsalves, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health, hailed the announcement Wednesday as “a start.”

He added: “We need the wording of this waiver to be transparent and public. But as we have always said, we need a technology transfer now and the United States must use the $ 16 billion already allocated in the American bailout to lay the groundwork for international and domestic escalation. of manufacturing. There is no going back. “

Earlier this week, Anthony Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, said he was “agnostic” about whether there should be a waiver, but warned of the political implications of such support.

He said: “Going back and forth, taking time and lawyers in a legal argument over waivers – that’s not the end of the game. People are dying around the world and we need to send them the vaccines. the fastest and most efficient way possible. ”

His comments elicited a backlash from liberal supporters of Biden, however, especially when he was questioned by journalist Mehdi Hasan on his online TV show.

Saikat Chakrabati, chairman of the left-wing think tank New Consensus, responded to Fauci’s comments in a tweet: “Giving up Covid’s patents is by no means mutually exclusive with administering doses of vaccine to countries now.”

He added, “You don’t have the privilege of being ‘agnostic’ when you’re the president’s chief medical adviser. The agnostic does not exist. Agnostic means making the status quo, which in itself is a decision.

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