Panafrican News Agency

Coronavirus: WHO chief hails US support for vaccine patent waiver

Geneva, Switzerland (PANA) - The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday said the commitment announced by the United States administration to lift vaccine patent protections to help boost global supply, was a “monumental moment” in the battle to end the deadly pandemic.

WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described it on Twitter as a “powerful example of leadership to address global health challenges”.

A UN statement noted that Dr. Tedros had for months been urging governments involved in the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations over intellectual property rights, to suspend patent rules for those vaccines cleared for emergency use, in an effort to boost vaccine production.

The US had resisted lobbying to waive protections, but on Wednesday Katharine Tai, the US Trade Representative, released a detailed statement, outlining why the Biden Administration was changing its mind:

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” she said.

“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 WTO, needed to make this happen.”

She outlined that the aim was to get “as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people, as fast as possible”.

The statement said the top trade official committed the US to expand manufacturing and distribution, and work to increase the raw materials needed to produce the vaccines.

According to news reports, WTO members are due to hold further discussions in the coming weeks, while India and South Africa – which proposed the waiver – are working on revised plans.

Speaking before the US announcement, the WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said that the issue of equitable access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, was “both the moral and economic issue of our time”.

Addressing members at Wednesday’s meeting of the trade body, she said all members needed to share their vaccines, either through the international equitable mechanism, COVAX, or other means, and remove export restrictions and prohibitions.

Manufacturers needed to expand capacity, and governments should “invest in additional manufacturing capacity for the future".

She called on negotiations over the waiver to continue speedily, saying she was convinced a “pragmatic way forward” was possible.

In its reaction, human rights advocate Amnesty International described it as "a bold step for global solidarity".

"By supporting the waiving of intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, the Biden Administration has put the lives of people around the world ahead of the profits of a few pharma giants and their shareholders," Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard said.

“Other rich states – such as Australia, Brazil, the EU and UK - must now follow suit. Only by sharing knowledge and technology can the production of vaccines be accelerated to reach as many people as fast as possible. The only way to end the pandemic is to end it globally. The only way to end it globally is to put people before profit,” she added. 

-0- PANA MA 6May2021