The United States (US) Trade Representative Katherine Tai on 5 May released a statement supporting TRIPS waiver on COVID-19 vaccine. This paves the way for patent waiver on COVID-19 vaccine and as a result possibility of a cheaper vaccine.
This comes after several countries including India have been advocating for intellectual property rights waiver on COVID-19 vaccine at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). India and South Africa had proposed a relaxation in the norms of the agreement on TRIPS in Oct 2020.
World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had also supported removing the intellectual property barrier for increasing vaccine manufacturing.
“The extraordinary circumstances of the covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” said Katherine Tai.
“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,” read the statement released by the Office of US Trade Representative.
However, this doesn’t mean the waiver will necessarily be adopted at WTO. Other developed countries and the European Union (EU) also have strong opinions on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), WTO’s multilateral agreement on intellectual property.
The drug companies that hold patents for vaccines are the only ones authorised to manufacture. Without a patent restriction, any pharmaceutical company with appropriate resources will be able to manufacture the vaccine. This will be helpful in increasing vaccine manufacturing capacities and increasing availability of vaccines to combat the pandemic.
After the US announced its intention to support waiver, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also announced that the EU is ready to discuss the proposal to waive patents on Covid-19 vaccines.
India has welcomed the US move to support the waiver.
“We welcome the statement of the US government of 5th May announcing their support for this initiative. We are hopeful that with a consensus based approach, the waiver can be approved quickly at the WTO. The waiver is an important step for enabling rapid scaling up of manufacture and timely availability of affordable Covid 19 vaccines and essential medical products,” said the press statement released by India’s Ministry of External Affairs.