US Trade Representative Katherine Tai Wednesday announced the Biden-Harris Administration’s “support for waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”
The announcement comes amid growing concern regarding the humanitarian crisis emerging from India’s second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports over 21 million confirmed cases in India alone, accounting for over 40% of the new confirmed cases worldwide last week.
“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.”
Until this week, the US played a major role in blocking a proposal by India and South Africa to waive certain intellectual property protections at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In April, Democratic senators wrote a letter to President Joe Biden, urging him to support temporarily waiving IP rights for the vaccines.
Biotech companies generally oppose the move, citing concerns about future pandemics, maintaining production facilities, and the overall global response to COVID-19. Brent Saunders, CEO of Vesper Healthcare Acquisition Corp., asked on Twitter, “Who will make the vaccine next time?”
On the other hand, Moderna, which developed its vaccine in tandem with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced in October that it “[felt] a special obligation under the current circumstances to use [its] resources to bring this pandemic to an end as quickly as possible.” It further declared the company would “not enforce” its COVID-19-related patents and is willing to license its IP to others after the pandemic.
WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commended the move as a “historic decision for vaccine equity and prioritizing the well-being of all people everywhere at a critical time.”