US Supports Lifting Vaccine Intellectual Property

Published on 6 May 2021 at 11:19

The Biden administration announced that it will support the lifting of intellectual property protections on Covid-19 vaccines.



This is a welcome move and a departure from their previous stance, then under the Trump administration, which opposed lifting of intellectual property protections.



This move to suspend intellectual property protections was initially supported by many countries, including India and South Africa in November, but was blocked by the richer countries such as the US and Britain.



The Biden administration stated that this is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances for 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 these protections for Covid-19 vaccines.



Trade Representative of the Administration, Katherine Tai, who wrote  ‘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'



She added that it will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce these vaccines. This move by the US to support the lifting of intellectual property protections has gathered the praise of WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus who ‘praised the U.S. decision as a ‘monumental moment in the fight against Covid-19’ that reflects the ‘moral leadership’ of the White House in the fight to end the pandemic.



However the move has gathered criticism from the major pharmaceutical companies who are unhappy with the move by the Biden administration to support the lifting of intellectual property protections. 



World Trade Organization leaders reportedly urged member nations this week to quickly hash out the details of an agreement to temporarily ease the rules protecting intellectual property behind coronavirus vaccines.



This waiver, proposed by South Africa and India, could remove obstacles to ramping up the production of vaccines in developing countries, however, an administration official with knowledge of Tai’s decision cautioned that WTO’s discussions over waivers could take time and, since the body’s rulings are based on consensus, will require approval from all 164 members.



In April, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed lifting the patent protections of coronavirus vaccines with Biden, according to a readout of their call. The relaxation would grant governments quicker and more affordable access to the lifesaving doses’. 



The move by the Biden administration has to be welcomed by many people around the world, who have wanted intellectual property protections to be lifted on Covid-19 vaccines. Coronavirus is a global pandemic and it requires measures which are unprecedented and it is welcome that the administration are leading by example.



The lifting of intellectual property protections, protect human lives over profit. It remains to be seen whether other countries follow the lead of the US.  Due to it being the hegemonic power in the Western world and in the global world, it is likely that other countries in the West will back the decision of the US to support a waiver of intellectual property protections. However, despite this, it will require all 164 member nations of the WTO to back a lifting of intellectual property protections.



The European Union will likely be next to follow suit, with the Phizer/BioNTech vaccine produced in the trading bloc. Previously, the EU opposed this move of lifting intellectual property protections. 



This effects of this announcement are yet to take effect, however the suspension of intellectual property protections will inevitably speed up the COVID19 recovery process.

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