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The Financial Express

US reverses stance, backs giving poorer countries access to Covid vaccine patents

| Updated: May 06, 2021 17:07:57


Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken on March 19, 2021 — Reuters/Files Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken on March 19, 2021 — Reuters/Files

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines, bowing to mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers and more than 100 other countries, but angering pharmaceutical companies.

Biden voiced his support for a temporary waiver - a sharp reversal of the previous US position - after a speech at the White House, followed swiftly by an official statement from his chief trade negotiator, Katherine Tai.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," Tai said in a statement, amid growing concern that big outbreaks in India could allow the rise of vaccine-resistant strains of the deadly virus, undermining a global recovery.

Shares in a number of makers of vaccines for Covid-19 tumbled on the news. Two of the biggest vaccine makers are US companies - Moderna Inc and Pfizer Inc.

Biden's move won praise from the head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who called it a "MONUMENTAL MOMENT IN THE FIGHT AGAINST #COVID19" on Twitter.

The Biden administration told pharmaceutical companies - which have reported sharp revenue and profit gains during the crisis - about its plans ahead of the announcement, a senior administration official said.

The pharmaceutical industry's biggest lobby group warned that Biden's unprecedented step would undermine the companies' response to the pandemic and compromise safety.

Biden, who backed a waiver during the 2020 presidential campaign, has made fighting the coronavirus a top priority of his administration and the rollout of vaccines in the United States has led to a decline in case numbers and deaths.

The Democratic president, who campaigned on a promise to re-engage with the world after four years of contentious relations between former President Donald Trump and US allies, has come under intensifying pressure to share US vaccine supply and technology to fight the virus around the globe.

His decision comes amid a devastating outbreak in India, which accounted for 46 per cent of the new Covid-19 cases recorded worldwide last week, and signs that the outbreak is spreading to Nepal, Sri Lanka and other neighbours.

Negotiations To Take Time

Wednesday's statement paved the way for what could be months of negotiations to hammer out a specific waiver plan. WTO decisions require a consensus of all 164 members.

Tai cautioned deliberations would take time. The United States would also continue to push for increased production and distribution of vaccines around the world, she said.

The United States and several other countries previously blocked negotiations at the WTO about a proposal led by India and South Africa to waive protections for some patents and technology and boost vaccine production in developing countries.

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