— Health

EU considers COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver but Germany, drugmakers push back

The European Union is willing to discuss a proposal to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday, as drugmakers fought their ground and their share prices slipped. US President Joe Biden voiced support on Wednesday for a waiver to reverse the US position, and his top trade negotiator, Katherine Tai, swiftly endorsed negotiations at the World Trade Organization. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called Mr. Biden’s move a “monumental moment in the fight against #COVID19” on Twitter and said it reflected “the wisdom and moral leadership of the United States”.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told member states that she “warmly welcomed” the US move, adding: “We need to respond urgently to COVID-19 because the world is watching and people are dying.”

Ms. Von der Leyen, speaking to the European University Institute in Florence, said the EU was ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis “effectively and pragmatically”.

“That’s why we are ready to discuss how the US proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective.”

COVID-19 vaccine

But drugmakers – who have produced coronavirus vaccines in record time – said the proposal could have the opposite effect by disrupting a stretched and fragile supply chain.

They urged rich countries to share vaccines generously with the developing world instead.

And Germany, the EU’s most significant economic power and home to a large pharmaceutical sector, rejected the idea, saying the reasons for the lack of vaccines were capacity and quality standards.

‘Grandstanding’

Health Minister Jens Spahn shared Mr. Biden’s goal of providing the world with vaccines. Still, a government spokeswoman said, “the protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future”.

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations said a waiver would encourage new manufacturers who lacked essential know-how and oversight.

One of those firms, Moderna, had already waived its patent rights in Octobe. Onn Thursday, it noted the lack of companies to manufacture and secure approval for the rapidly similar vaccines. Brian Skorney, an analyst with the US investment bank Baird, said he believed the discussion amounted to grandstanding by the Biden administration and doubted it would have any broader long-term impact across the industry.

While Wall Street’s main indexes rose slightly on Thursday, vaccine makers’ shares were down, albeit well off their early lows. Moderna was down 2.8 percent at 1548 GMT. Pfizer was down 1.4 percent, and Novavax was down 0.4 percent. AstraZeneca, which has sold its vaccine at cost price, fell 0.8 percent in London. According to a Reuters tally, moree than 155 million people have been infected worldwide by the coronavirus,s and almost 3.4 million have died.

But the vast bulk of the 624 million people who have received at least one dose of the vaccine live in wealthier countries.

The global COVAX facility, backed by the WHO and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) and aims to supply vaccines to low-income countries, has distributed around 41 million doses.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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