US Makes Big Move on COVID Vaccine Patents

Administration says it supports temporarily lifting patent restrictions
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 6, 2021 4:51 AM CDT
Updated May 6, 2021 6:50 AM CDT
US Supports Suspending Vaccine Patent Rules
In this May. 3, 2021 photo, health workers sit in the waiting area of a vaccination center which has been closed because of shortage of the COVID-19 vaccine in Mumbai, India.   (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool, File)

"The extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said Wednesday, announcing that the US will support a measure to suspend patent rules for coronavirus vaccines. With COVID infections and deaths reaching new highs in some parts of the world, India and South Africa are among dozens of World Trade Organization members pushing for patent protections to be temporarily lifted. The US had been among the major holdouts, but President Biden—who supported a patent waiver during his 2020 campaign—faced growing pressure from congressional Democrats to back the proposal, the New York Times reports.

"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," Tai said Wednesday. World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the US decision was a "monumental moment in the fight against COVID-19," though drug companies argued that supply chain issues and the unwillingness of rich countries to share doses with poorer ones were bigger obstacles than patent protections, the BBC reports. CNN reports that the move does not mean patent rules for vaccines will be relaxed immediately. The European Union still opposes patent waivers, though European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday that the bloc is willing to discuss the US proposal. (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)

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