The Biden administration came out Wednesday in support of easing patent rules and waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, potentially expanding the global supply and combatting vaccine distribution inequality between rich and developing nations.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” said US Trade representative Katherine Tai.
The decision to ease restrictions could be a monumental step in the global effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus, especially in developing regions such as Africa, India, and South America.
“The Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible,” said Tai.
While the waiver of vaccine property rights is intended to help the rest of the world return to normal, it was opposed by many who feared that it may provoke important drug manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna.
“Adoption of this waiver is critical to disseminate vaccine technology to middle-income and low-income nations, so that all people around the world can get access to vaccines and treatment, as quickly as possible,” said Amnesty International, which commended the decision.
In a Wednesday statement, Amnesty International explained that the decision to waive intellectual property rights sends a message that the “U.S. prioritizes people’s lives over pharmaceutical company profits.”
The issue of intellectual property rights has been a debate for quite some time and was reportedly a topic of conversation in last week’s phone call between President Biden and the Prime Minister of India- where the virus is raging and there is a colossal surge in cases.
The existing patent rules will not immediately be eased despite Wednesday’s decision. Members of the World Trade Organization must unanimously decide whether to loosen the restrictions and there has been resistance from some other countries as well.
Wednesday’s decision gives hope to billions around the world who lack access to the vaccine. Many feel that it is a step in the right direction toward more fair and equitable vaccine distribution, sending a message that the fight against COVID-19 is not just a national effort but a global one.