WASHINGTON – The Biden government announced on Wednesday that it supports the waiver of intellectual property protection for Covid-19 vaccines as countries struggle to manufacture the life-saving doses.
"This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The government firmly believes that protecting intellectual property, but in the service of ending this pandemic, waiving that protection for COVID- 19 supports vaccines, "United States sales representative Katherine Tai wrote in a statement.
"With our vaccine supplies to the American people secure, the government will continue to work – in collaboration with the private sector and all possible partners – to expand the manufacture and distribution of vaccines. It will also work to obtain the raw materials it needs increase produce these vaccines, "added the statement.
World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus praised the US decision as a "monumental moment in the fight against Covid-19", reflecting the White House's "moral leadership" in the fight against the pandemic.
Shares of large pharmaceutical companies that made vaccines, including Moderna, BioNTech, and Pfizer, fell sharply after the potential was revealed Disclaimers broke first. Pfizer ended its trading day flat while Moderna lost 6.1%; Johnson & Johnson lost a modest 0.4%.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spoke out against the Biden government's support for the waiver of IP protection. Members of the trading group include vaccine manufacturers such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson.
"Amid a deadly pandemic, the Biden administration has taken an unprecedented move that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and threaten security," said Stephen J. Ubi, group president and CEO. "This decision will create confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already tight supply chains and encourage the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines."
World Trade Organization leaders reportedly this week urged member states to swiftly clarify the details of an agreement to temporarily relax the intellectual property rules behind coronavirus vaccines. The derogation proposed by South Africa and India could remove barriers to increasing vaccine production in developing countries.
An administrative official, aware of Tai's decision, warned that the WTO's discussions on derogations could take some time and, since the panel's decisions are based on consensus, it must be approved by all 164 members.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that Tai had held at least two dozen meetings and talks with various industry stakeholders, including major vaccine manufacturers. The person added that Tai is committed to amicable collaboration among global companies to remove supply chain bottlenecks.
White House President Joe Biden on Wednesday reiterated that the White House would support the World Trade Organization's proposal to suspend intellectual property. "Yeah, I'll talk about that later today. Yeah," Biden said just before Tai's statement was released.
The move by the Biden government comes because coronavirus infections have soared to their highest levels in countries that have struggled to source or distribute vaccines, highlighting a contrast with other nations including the US, Canada and the UK .
46-year-old Edith Arangoitia (who came to accompany her older mother) was born on February 16, 2021 by Dr. Galen Harnden in La Colaborativa in Chelsea, Massachusetts, was vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.
Joseph Prezioso | AFP | Getty Images
In the past few weeks, India has been grappling with a staggering surge in new coronavirus infections. Over the weekend, India reported 400,000 cases a day for a cumulative total of 20,665,148 cases. This comes from figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The spike may have been triggered by a highly contagious variant of Covid known as B.1.617, which was first identified in India.
The variant has since been identified in other countries, including the United States.
In April, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed lifting patent protection for coronavirus vaccines with Biden. The relaxation would give governments faster and more affordable access to the life-saving doses.
Last week, the Biden government announced that it would immediately provide the raw materials needed to manufacture coronavirus vaccines in India.
Critics have argued that vaccine patents and other safeguards are not the central barrier to producing more vaccines for the nations that need them most. Some also suggest that such agreements could undermine firms' incentives to innovate.
"This is a major misstep by the Biden administration that will do nothing to improve vaccine distribution and support China's ability to use US innovation to achieve its vaccine diplomacy goals," said Clete Willems, former attorney with the US office – Sales agent said the decision.
"A solution that is more in line with the government's stated goals of improving US competitiveness and preserving jobs in America would be to manufacture and export vaccines from the US," said Willems, who served under both the Obama administration and the US also worked under the Trump administration.
A Washington Post editorial this week said the goal of developing a "popular vaccine" to defeat Covid was "more a slogan than a solution."
– CNBC's Kevin Breuninger and Tom Franck reported from New York.