LOS ANGELES (May 5, 2021) AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the world’s largest provider of HIV/AIDS care globally, applauded today President Biden’s historic decision to support a proposal to waive intellectual property (IP) rights protections for COVID-19 vaccines.
The announcement was made on May 5 in a statement by (USTR) Ambassador Katherine Tai. The decision is exceedingly timely because the World Trade Organization (WTO) in set to debate the IP waiver once again this week after a handful of wealthy countries had blocked previous attempts to adopt it. Trade Representative Tai went on to say in the statement that the U.S. government will actively participate in the WTO debate on the waiver “to make that happen,” with the goal of getting as many people vaccinated as possible.
“This is a decision of momentous significance for billions of people around the world. We salute President Biden for taking a resolutely principled position in favor of waiving COVID-19 vaccine patents,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “The decision puts the health of people above the profit-driven interests of pharmaceutical companies, and it will have an immediate impact on the negotiations at the WTO. Once we clear the patents hurdle, countries need to quickly get on with the job of ramping up the production of vaccines. We must vaccinate our world to defeat COVID-19!”
With over three million people dead and new COVID-19 cases completely exceeding the capacity of healthcare systems in countries like India and Brazil, there is a crushing need for more vaccines, particularly in the developing world. However, as of late April, 890 million vaccine doses had been administered worldwide – 81% were given in wealthy countries – and low-income countries received only 0.3%, according to the World Health Organization.
The USTR announcement is an unprecedented break with the U.S. policy position which has traditionally favored strong IP protections on pharmaceutical products, such as HIV medications. If the WTO is successful in adopting a resolution on an IP waiver, this should pave the wave for generic pharmaceutical companies to enter the market. They would be able to produce patented vaccines without the fear of being sued for IP violations, which in turn would expand global manufacturing capacity and lead to greater vaccine availability at a lower cost.
A day prior to the USTR announcement, on May 4 AHF issued a statement calling for President Biden to uphold the promise to waive vaccine patents, and issued an earlier similar call on Mr. Biden on April 15th.
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