Washington: The Biden administration has announced to support India and South Africa's proposal before the World Trade Organisation to temporarily waive anti-COVID vaccine patents to boost its supply.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai on Wednesday said this is a global health crisis and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.
"The (Biden) 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.
The Biden administration's decision will make it easier for the WTO's General Council to approve the proposal.
The General Council's meeting is currently underway in Geneva.
"We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) needed to make that happen. Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved," Tai said.
Over the last one month, Tai had extensive consultations with various stakeholders both within and outside the US. The White House described it as a policy process.
"The administration's aim 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 working with the private sector and all possible partners to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution. It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines," Tai said.
The administration took such a major decision despite stiff opposition from major pharma companies and US Chambers of Commerce, which argued that this will impact their intellectual property.
The opposition Republican party had also written to President Joe Biden and Tai expressing concerns over the proposal.
On the other hand, more than 100 Democratic Congressmen and 10 Senators had written to Biden in support of TRIPS waiver.
India's Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu was continuously in talks with members of the Congress and raised the issue in almost every meeting that he had with lawmakers and pharma companies.
Diplomats from the South African Embassy along with those from Kenya joined the Indian efforts as well.
The decision was immediately welcomed by several lawmakers.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden said pitching in to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic globally is essential to protecting Americans' health and accelerating economic recovery.
"More importantly it is simply the right thing to do. I support the administration's efforts to quickly identify and break down barriers to getting vaccines in arms as rapidly and safely as possible. I plan to work with USTR throughout this process to ensure they negotiate a waiver of vaccine IP protections that will get results and save lives around the world," Wyden said.