The White House has announced it is supporting waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to expand access to vaccines worldwide.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” United States Trade Representative Katherine 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.”
President Joe Biden supported the waivers during his 2020 presidential run, despite pharmaceutical companies applying some pressure. The preliminary move doesn’t guarantee patent rules will be altered immediately.
World Trade Organization leaders reportedly pushed for members to figure out the deatils of an agreement that eases such intellectual property rules, with a South Africa- and India-proposed waiver potentially helping to speed up vaccine producion in developing countries.
“Yes, I’m going to talk about that later today,” Biden said before Tai’s statement.
Not long after the announcement, shares for Pfizer, Biontech, Novavax, Moderna—the pharmaceutical companies behind the vaccines—fell quickly. Some experts argue that patents aren’t the biggest issue and that lifting them only gives companies less reason to develop such ideas.
“This is a huge misstep by the Biden Administration that will do nothing to increase vaccine distribution and will endorse China’s ability to piggyback on U.S. innovation to further its vaccine diplomacy aims,” said Clete Willems, a former attorney at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.