One of the biggest obstacles to COVID-19 vaccine studies is patents for existing vaccines. Although scientists do not want to give up patents, coronavirus deaths around the world are debating the practice. Finally, the U.S. government announced that they would support the removal of patents for coronavirus vaccines.
After weeks of controversy under Joe Biden, the United States is preparing to support a temporary waiver of patent rights to COVID-19 vaccines. Organizations and some governments have introduced this policy to speed up the production and purchase of vaccines by developing countries. The United States will meet with the World Trade Organization for a patent exemption.
Since last October, more than 50 countries and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have been pressing the World Trade Organization. Because they are working to enact the exemption of the Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS) related to trade. This agreement will suspend the protection of intellectual property rights over COVID-19 vaccines. The exemption request includes COVID-19 treatments, including vaccines.
If they accept the TRIPS exemption, it will allow developing countries to produce or purchase coronavirus vaccines at a much lower cost. But the pharmaceutical industry, backed by the United States and other developed countries, strongly opposed the move. As a result, the WTO has so far refused to grant such an exemption.
The WTO made its final rejection in March 2021. Since then, there has been political and grassroots support for the removal of patents. Leaders such as U.S. Senator Bernie are urging the federal government to change its mind before a WTO general meeting later this month. Polls also showed that the general public of the United States supports these exemptions.
Recent reports indicated that the Biden administration was close to changing its mind. But comments made this week by Anthony Fauci, a public health official and Biden’s top medical adviser, suggested otherwise. U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai finally answered the question on the agenda.
“The United States supports waiving IP (intellectual property) protections in COVID-19 vaccines to help end the epidemic. To achieve this, we will actively participate in WTO negotiations,” he said. Then WTO president Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said countries should best meet these waivers.
Public health experts argue that waiving patent rights will help poor countries produce and buy vaccines faster. Developing countries will need technical support and raw materials to increase their production. Because some of the vaccines depend on relatively new technologies. However, since mass production will take time, it is not immediately possible for these countries to relax.