Vaccine Patent Waiver: EU Open to Talks on Lifting COVID-19 Intellectual Property Rights

Written by | Saturday, May 8th, 2021

The EU is “ready to discuss” lifting intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday (6 May), after Biden administration said it backed the idea. This news came as more than 100 countries had been pushing for the intellectual property rights on coronavirus vaccines and treatments to be waived in order to speed up production of jabs. In a major shift on intellectual property rights, the United States on Wednesday (5 May) said it was backing the plans for what is essentially a patent waiver, amid World Trade Organization (WTO) talks on the issue. In turn, the head of the EU executive said the bloc would discuss “any proposal that would tackle the crisis in an effective and pragmatic way”. The temporary waiver on IP rights is hoped to allow more manufacturers to produce the 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,” US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement. Europe has so far opposed lifting patents, with the European Commission having said it had no plans to look into COVID-19 vaccine patent options. EU sources had said the EU executive aimed to ramp up production of COVID-19 vaccines through “voluntary” sharing of know-how among pharma companies, emphasizing that patents are not an obstacle to do that. “What is most needed now, beyond developing vaccines, is the ramping up of manufacturing of vaccines,” said a source at the European Commission.
But following the latest change in the policy at The White House, EU Commission chief has said the bloc is ready to hold talks on this issue, while stressing that Europe’s priority would be to “ramp up” global supplies “to achieve global vaccination.” “The European Union is also ready to discuss any proposal that addresses the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner,” von der Leyen told an online conference. “And that’s why we are ready to discuss how the US proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protection for covered vaccines could help achieve that objective.” French President Emmanuel Macron said he is in favor of waiving patents on COVID-19 vaccines, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed opposition to the US proposal, saying it would have “serious implications” for vaccine production worldwide. Merkel argued the limiting factors in vaccine supply were “production capacities and the high-quality standards, not the patents”.

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