The United States has reversed its stance on sharing the Intellectual Property (IP) rights for COVID-19 vaccines, allowing poorer countries access to the vaccines' patents. This is welcome news for the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The Biden-Harris Administration announced it supports the temporary waiving of patent rights to seriously ramp up vaccine production worldwide and save as many lives as possible.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” United States Trade Representative Katherine 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.
“We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen. Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.”
Time is a precious commodity during the pandemic. A call for the temporary suspension of the IP on vaccines was first put to the World Trade Organization (WTO) by India and South Africa in October last year. Since then the US, the UK, and the European Union have repeatedly rejected the growing call for equitable production and access to vaccines across the world.
On April 29, the European Parliament voted on an amendment that "the Union should support the India and South Africa WTO initiative for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights with regard to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.” Members rejected the amendment 454 to 162.
The change of direction from the US, a pledge President Biden made during the election campaign, has been welcomed by international medical organizations such as Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO).
“I commend the United States on its historic decision for vaccine equity and prioritizing the well-being of all people everywhere at a critical time. Now let's all move together swiftly, in solidarity, building on the ingenuity and commitment of scientists who produced life-saving COVID-19 vaccines,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
The next meeting of the WTO is in just over a month, on June 8. Over the last 33 days, there have been 25 million new cases of COVID-19 across the world with over 400,000 deaths. India, in particular, has been hit hard by the pandemic in recent weeks, accounting for 46 percent of all new COVID-19 cases recorded worldwide last week, reports Reuters.
The WHO has continuously warned of the danger of vaccine nationalism being an impediment in fighting the global pandemic. Every new person that is infected could lead to a variant that can’t be stopped with current vaccines and treatments. A global pandemic can only be stopped with global cooperation.