US announces support for waiving IP protections on Covid-19 vaccines
Welcoming the US move, India expressed hope that the waiver would be approved quickly at the WTO
The US on Wednesday announced its support for waiving Intellectual Property (IP) protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and said it will actively participate in World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations to make that happen.
Announcing the Biden-Harris Administration’s support for waiving IP protections for COVID-19 vaccines, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai released a statement explaining the decision.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. 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 in the statement.
In October last year, India and South Africa had asked the WTO to allow all countries to choose to neither grant nor enforce patents and other intellectual property (IP) related to all Covid-19 interventions, including therapeutics and diagnostics for the duration of the pandemic.
Welcoming the US decision, India's Ministry of Commerce and Industry said, "We are hopeful that with a consensus based approach, the waiver can be approved quickly at the WTO. The waiver is an important step for enabling rapid scaling up of manufacture and timely availability of affordable Covid 19 vaccines and essential medical products".
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had brought up India's initiative at the WTO during his phone call with US President Biden on April 26.
“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,” USTR Tai said about the US decision.
“The Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible. 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.”
Tweeting about the development, the US Trade Representative said, “These extraordinary times and circumstances of call for extraordinary measures. The US supports the waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and we’ll actively participate in @WTO negotiations to make that happen.”
The US move comes months after India and South Africa moved the WTO to allow all countries to choose to neither grant nor enforce patents and other intellectual property (IP) related to COVID-19 drugs, vaccines, diagnostics and other technologies for the duration of the pandemic, until global herd immunity is achieved.
Incidentally, the US support for IP waiver is only limited to Covid-19 vaccines, while the India-South Africa proposal is for such a waiver on all Covid-19 interventions, including therapeutics and diagnostics.
The call for waiving IP protections on Covid-19 vaccines had earlier been endorsed by the 46-member grouping of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
Last month, Malawi President and Chairperson of the LDCs Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera had said that the LDC “supports a request made by India and South Africa to the WTO to temporarily suspend the application of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), in order to increase access to COVID-19 vaccines in our countries.”
India has been one of the initiators of the Political Declaration on Equitable Global Access to COVID-19 Vaccines’ that garnered the support of more than 180 U.N. member states.