Biden administration to support waiving COVID-19 patents

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has announced the administration’s support for waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines. Waiving patent protections has gained traction, especially among progressives, as COVID-19 continues to spread in countries like India and Brazil.

It’s a move that could have a significant impact for pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, and for other countries as most of the world continues to struggle with access to the vaccine. The humanitarian crisis in India as it wages war with the virus has put particular pressure on the U.S. to waive vaccine patents. 

The announcement allows for negotiations to begin at the World Trade Organization. Dozens of countries have made a proposal to waive parts of the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. But some wealthier nations, including the U.S., hadn’t expressed support for the idea. 

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” Tai said in a statement. “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. We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization needed to make that happen.”

Tai went on to say it’s the administration’s goal “to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible,” and the administration will work with the private sector to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution.

Roughly 250 million vaccine doses have been administered in the U.S. so far, according to Centers for Disease Control data. 

Calls from humanitarian groups and other countries are growing for drug companies to share their vaccine formulas, particularly as India deals with a severe outbreak. U.S. companies have produced the most effective vaccines. 

Moderna has said it won’t enforce its patents on its vaccine, and announced this week it would give 34 million doses to middle-income and low-income countries. Pfizer said it would donate $70 million worth of COVID-19 treatments to India. But those actions aren’t likely to be sufficient. 

— CBS News’ Haley Ott contributed to this report

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