US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Wednesday, 5 May, announced support from the Biden-Harris administration for waiving intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines.
The decision comes at a time when rich countries have been accused of hoarding vaccines. The move could help poor nations in their vaccination programmes, as more drug makers will be able to manufacture the vaccine.
In the middle of a severe second wave of COVID, India is facing shortages of oxygen, medicines, and medical infrastructure, and the crisis has been furthered due to vaccine shortages as well.
The death count in India, hit a new daily record with 3,780 deaths on Wednesday. The country had been urging the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to allow more drug makers to manufacture the vaccine, a move opposed by pharmaceutical giants.
India has appreciated the Biden administration's decision to support the proposal moved by India and South Africa.
India's Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu said, “We appreciate the US administration's announcement today of its support for waiver of IPR for COVID-19 vaccines,” PTI reported.
For the past several weeks, Sandhu, along with the diplomats from South Africa, had been meeting US lawmakers and officials regarding the proposal.
While thanking US Senators and Congresspersons for their support, Sandhu added, “We will continue to work with all stakeholders in the US to collectively fight the global pandemic, including through equitable distribution of affordable vaccines, for global public health at this critical juncture.”
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai’s Statement
Tai said in a statement, “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), said in a tweet that the “historic” decision is a “powerful example of US leadership to address global health challenges” and marked “a monumental moment in the fight against COVID-19”.
Tai asserted that, “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.”
However, Tai noted, that though the US will actively engage in text-based negotiations at WTO, due to the consensus-based nature of the organisation and the complexity of issues, the negotiations could take time.
The aim, she said, “Is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible. As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the administration will continue to ramp up its efforts — to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution.”
Tai claimed that the US will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines. The US has been facing pressure to allow raw materials to India for vaccine production.
Despite the WTO receiving calls to temporarily remove the intellectual property protections, also known as TRIPS waiver in reference to the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property, big pharmaceuticals do not support the move.
Geneva-based International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations lobby group said, “A waiver is a simple but the wrong answer to what is a complex problem," and described the US move as "disappointing".
Due to the recent surge, the economic situation in India has reversed from being on the foothills of a strong economic recovery to facing a fresh crisis.
To counter the crisis, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor Shaktikanta Das said on 5 May announced a slew of measures, including Rs 50,000 crore priority lending by banks for hospitals, oxygen suppliers, vaccine importers, and COVID drugs, with the liquidity window open till 31 March 2022.
United States Could Soon Have as Many As 300 Million Extra Doses
United States is far from facing a vaccine shortage. Rather, the country could soon have as many as 300 million extra doses, news agency AFP reported. Biden on Tuesday, 4 May, said he wanted 70 percent of US adults to have received at least one shot by 4 July.
He added that his administration was “ready to move immediately” if regulators authorise the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 12 to 15-year-olds.
However, experts have questioned the wisdom of devoting limited vaccine supplies to a low-risk group instead of sharing them with high-risk groups abroad.
Priya Sampathkumar, chair of Infection Prevention & Control at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota was quoted as saying, “Vaccinating more people in the US is not going to help us if the variants in India, Nepal, and South Asia get out of control and hit our shores.
India on Wednesday reported 3,82,315 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally to 2,06,65,148. The death toll increased by 3,780 to 2,26,188.
(With inputs from AFP)
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