The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it supported waiving patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines, calling the pandemic a “global health crisis.”
“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,” United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement.
Waiving those protections would theoretically let countries and organizations manufacture patented vaccines without facing repercussions. But they would need to have the expertise and materials on hand to actually produce the vaccines.
India and South Africa had previously proposed that the World Trade Organization (WTO) suspend certain intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments in an effort to ramp up production and distribute vaccines more widely. That effort, which started last October, was blocked by a small number of countries, including the US.
India and South Africa are now making a renewed push for waivers at the WTO, and this time, the effort will have US support. Tai pledged that the US would actively negotiate at the WTO to make waivers happen.
“As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts – working with the private sector and all possible partners – to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution. It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines,” Tai said.
While the US has secured hundreds of millions of doses of various vaccines, other countries have struggled to purchase and produce enough vaccines for their populations. The US has fully vaccinated more than 32 percent of its population. India, which is currently wrestling with a horrific surge in cases, has fully vaccinated just 2.2 percent.