Biden supports suspending covid-19 vaccine patents

U.S. representative to WTO announces start of negotiations to do so

1 min
Janssen's vaccine

"This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," United States ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Katherine Tai, has written on a statement posted on her Twitter account. The historic decision by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris's government to support temporarily suspending patents on covid-19 vaccines was announced tonight.

"The United States supports an exemption from intellectual property protections for covid-19 vaccines," said Tai, who added that she will begin negotiations within the WTO to achieve it. Agreements within the WTO have to be reached by consensus, so the same US representative predicted that "negotiations will take time".

India and South Africa asked the WTO in October last year for a temporary suspension of patents to be able to produce covid-19 vaccines without restrictions and distribute them to all countries in the world. But the request failed because of resistance from many countries and pressure from the pharmaceutical industry. Now, US support could make it a reality, given the impact it has on international affairs.

The Biden administration's announcement comes on the day that the WTO had, in fact, met to discuss the issue. The head of the body, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has already come out publicly to urge member states to negotiate it and described it, in fact, as "the great moral and economic issue of our time". "I am firmly convinced that once we all sit down with a text in front of us, we will find a pragmatic way forward," he said.

Now, the WHO's Covax programme envisages paying for vaccines that the poorest countries receive, and not all will receive them for free but at a reduced price. However, suspending patents would greatly facilitate access to vaccination.