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US backs proposal to waive IP protection for COVID-19 vaccines

"Monumental decision" could see IP protections for COVID-19 vaccines temporarily removed

The US has announced that it will support a proposal to waive intellectual property (IP) and patents on all COVID-19 vaccines, aiming to “get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible”.

The Biden-Harris Administration is backing a proposal from the World Trade Organization (WTO), supported by South Africa and India, that would temporarily remove IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines.

The move itself is surprising, given that historically the US has been in favour of protecting IP. However, in a statement, US Trade Representative Katherine Toi said that although the administration “strongly believes in [IP] protections…in the service of ending this pandemic, [it] supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines”.

She added: “We will actively participate in text-based negotiations with the World Trade Organization 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.”

However, the pharmaceutical industry has opposed the proposal, with Richard Torbett of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) saying the US’ move will “hinder vaccine scale-up”.

"We share the goal of getting COVID-19 vaccines to the people who need them as fast as possible, but waiving IP is not the solution. In the short term, it will hinder vaccine scale-up and in the long term, it will significantly impact global investment into new vaccines and medicines, including for future pandemics,” he added.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA) also called the US’ decision “disappointing”, adding that “a waiver is the simple but the wrong answer to what is a complex problem”.

“Waiving patents of COVID-19 vaccines will not increase production nor provide practical solutions needed to battle this global health crisis.

“On the contrary, it is likely to lead to disruption; while distracting from addressing the real challenges in scaling up production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally: namely elimination of trade barriers, addressing bottlenecks in supply chains and scarcity of raw materials and ingredients in the supply chain, and a willingness by rich countries to start sharing doses with poor countries.”

Others have supported the decision, including the World Health Organization’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said it represented “a monumental moment in the fight against COVID-19”.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontierès (MSF) also said the US’ decision was an “important step towards global support” for a WTO waiver on IP.

"This monumental decision will help address the historic and extraordinary global health challenges we’re facing and increase equitable access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines worldwide by helping to end this crisis for everyone. The longer it takes to vaccinate everyone in the world, the greater the risk to us all as new variants have more opportunity to take hold,” said Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontierès (MSF).

Article by
Lucy Parsons

6th May 2021

From: Regulatory

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