Follow us on social

Shutterstock_1854498166-scaled

Biden takes a vital step on vaccine patents — but more action is needed

U.S. support for a patent waiver must be coupled with technology transfers, information sharing, and a coordinated global effort to distribute vaccines.

North America

The Biden administration’s announcement that it will support a WTO patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines is a welcome step towards ending the global pandemic — but it must be followed by coordinated efforts to boost vaccine production through technology transfer, information sharing, and increased financing to have its promised effect.

The move is a heel-turn for the administration, which in March helped block a proposal led by India and South Africa to waive patents for Covid vaccines, treatments, and vital medical supplies in order to enable the production of affordable generics, particularly in the developing world.

This reversal, announced by U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, comes after months of pressure from activists and public health experts around the globe.

U.S. support does not itself guarantee passage of a patent waiver, as the United States was previously joined in blocking the measure by the United Kingdom, the European Union, and a handful of other countries. It does, however, make it vastly more likely that remaining holdouts will shift their positions. (At this time, New Zealand has already suggested it will move to support the waiver).

While the administration’s announcement is undoubtedly good news, crucial questions remain. Notably, Tai’s statement does not say that the U.S. will support the specific proposal put forward by India and South Africa. This suggests that the United States may advocate for a modified or narrower plan in WTO negotiations. Tai’s announcement states only that the U.S. will support a waiver for vaccines, not for treatments and medical supplies as included in the earlier proposal. To maximize the benefits of a waiver, the Biden administration must be pushed to support the broadest possible proposal, ideally including COVID treatments and medical supplies.

Most importantly, the waiver will require follow-on action in the form of technology transfer and information sharing. While patents are a primary barrier to broader vaccine production, new manufacturers will also need access to key technologies and production information. 

The Biden administration should begin working now to facilitate technology transfer through the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool and to share manufacturing information held by Pfizer, Moderna, and others. It should also come up with a plan to finance scaled-up production and distribution of vaccines worldwide.

The administration cannot hesitate in taking these next steps. Its embrace of a patent waiver offers an unprecedented opportunity to bring a more swift end to the pandemic — and with cases surging in devastating outbreaks around the world, there is no time to spare.

(shutterstock.com)
North America
10 years later: Maidan's missing history

Protestors confront police in Kyiv, Ukraine, as anti-government protests turn violent. (Lena Osokina/ Shutterstock)

10 years later: Maidan's missing history

Europe

The revolutionary violence that swept Kyiv’s Maidan Square on the night of February 21, 2014 unleashed the forces of Ukrainian nationalism and, ultimately, Russian revanchism, and resulted in, among other things, the first full-scale land war in Europe since 1945.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has called the Maidan the “first victory” in Ukraine’s fight for independence from Russia. Yet too often lost in the tributes to Ukraine’s ‘Revolution of Dignity’ are two simple, though ramifying, questions: What was the Maidan really about? And did things have to turn out this way?

keep readingShow less
The EU’s flagging credibility in the Middle East

The German Bundeswehr ship "Hessen" sets sail on Feb. 8, 2024 from Wilhelmshaven to help protect merchant ships in the Red Sea against attacks by the Iranian-backed Houthi militia. (Reuters)

The EU’s flagging credibility in the Middle East

Europe

With no ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas in sight and Houthi forces in Yemen still firing missiles and drones at commercial shipping in the Red Sea, the EU’s efforts at addressing conflict in Gaza and its broader regional ramifications keep flailing.

After weeks of discussions, the EU officially launched its naval operation in the Red Sea on February 19 to protect international commercial shipping from Houthi attacks. The Houthis claim they wantto force a ceasefire in Gaza. Yet, while the ceasefire remains elusive, the attacks impose real costs on EU members: the EU commissioner for economy Paolo Gentiloni recently estimated that the rerouting of shipping from the Red Sea has increased delivery times for shipments between Asia and the EU by 10 to 15 days and the consequent costs by around 400%.

keep readingShow less
Biden wants to put the US on permanent war footing

Mike Shoemaker VP F35 customer programs, FMS, Domestic and Partners talks during the inauguration ceremony of Sabca's new production hall for the horizontal tailplane of the F-35 fighter aircraft, in Lummen, Thursday 10 March 2022. T BELGA PHOTO JOHN THYS.

Biden wants to put the US on permanent war footing

Military Industrial Complex

The White House is steering the United States into a budgetary ditch it may not be able to get out of.

The Biden administration is supersizing the defense industry to meet foreign arms obligations instead of making tradeoffs essential to any effective budget. Its new National Defense Industrial Strategy lays out a plan to “catalyze generational change” of the defense industrial base and to “meet the strategic moment” — one rhetorically dominated by competition with China, but punctuated by U.S. support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia and Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

keep readingShow less

Israel-Gaza Crisis

Latest