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Biden Administration Supports Waiving Patent Protections for COVID Vaccines

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai testifies before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)

United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced Wednesday that the Biden Administration supports waiving patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines.

“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,” the statement read.

The ambassador specified that the U.S. will engage in diplomatic discussion at the World Trade Organization (WTO), noting that these negotiations “will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.” WTO decisions require consensus, meaning all 164 members must approve the proposal.

“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,” Tai added.

WTO member nations have reportedly been deliberating forging an agreement to temporarily relax intellectual property protections behind coronavirus vaccines. South Africa and India originally proposed the waiver, in the hopes of removing barriers to expanding vaccine production in under-resourced nations.

The White House’s executive action to endorse vaccine IP waivers comes as coronavirus infections have skyrocketed in developing countries struggling with vaccine production and procurement.

While the U.S. currently has a surplus of vaccines, with supply exceeding demand, many other countries are experiencing manufacturing and distribution lags.

India has recently seen a surge in coronavirus cases, bringing the nation’s total to 20,665,148 infections over the weekend, according to research by Johns Hopkins.  The Biden administration has since ramped up medical supply and raw material shipments to India, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki noted in press briefings this week.

Since the news of the waiver broke, the stock prices of major pharmaceutical companies that have released vaccines, including Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer, dipped significantly.

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