WHO chief urges world to observe U.S., waive Covid vaccine patent protections

World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organized by the United Nations Union of Geneva Correspondents Association (ACANU) during the COVID-19 outbreak on July 3, 2020 at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland has been.

Fabrice Coffrini | Pool | Reuters

The Director General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Friday called on other countries, in particular the Group of the Seven Industrialized Nations, to follow the example of the US and support a request by the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines .

“The US announcement on Wednesday to support a temporary waiver of intellectual property protection for Covid-19 vaccines is an important declaration of solidarity and support for vaccine justice,” Tedros said at a press conference. “I know that this is not easy politically, so I really appreciate the US leadership and we urge other countries to follow suit.”

The USA, which is strongly committed to the enforcement of intellectual property rights around the world, has previously spoken out against the waiver of patent protection for Covid vaccines.

President Joe Biden personally made the decision to change the US stance, White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One on Thursday. As a presidential candidate, Biden had supported the abandonment of the intellectual property of Covid vaccines.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, whose members include vaccine manufacturers AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, firmly oppose the Biden government’s decision.

WHO chief Tedros on Friday also called on the G7 industrialized nations – Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Great Britain, as well as the USA – to do more to facilitate the equitable distribution of Covid vaccines worldwide.

“For G-7, vaccines and vaccine equity are now the most important and immediate support we need,” said Tedros. “I think everyone knows what we should do to increase production capacity and then increase vaccination rates in all countries.”

According to the WHO chief, more than 80% of the more than 1 billion Covid vaccine doses distributed worldwide went to high-income countries, while low-income countries received 0.3%.

“That kind of gap is unacceptable,” said Tedros. “It is not only unacceptable on moral grounds, but also because we will not defeat the virus in a divided world.”

“It is in the interests of every country in this world to exchange vaccines and to contribute in every possible way to ensure the justice of the vaccines,” said the WHO chief. “Vaccine equity is not a charity. Vaccine equity is in everyone’s interest.”

The demand for the revocation of patent protection proposed by India and South Africa last October is facing an uphill battle at the WTO, which takes decisions by consensus among its 164 member states.

Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has spoken out against the attempt to temporarily forego vaccination patents. BioNTech, which developed a Covid vaccine in collaboration with Pfizer, is based in Germany.

“The US proposal to lift patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines has a significant impact on vaccine production as a whole,” said a spokesman for the federal government on Thursday. “The limiting factor in vaccine production is the production capacity and high quality standards, not the patents.”

After the US reversal, the governments of Canada, Italy, Japan and Great Britain did not take any clear public positions for or against the renunciation of the protection of intellectual property. French President Emmanuel Macron supported the US position.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who heads the executive body of the European Union, did not accept the waiver plan and declared in a speech that she was “ready to discuss proposals for effective and pragmatic management of the crisis”.

Russia, which developed the Sputnik vaccine, has expressed support for the move and China is open to further discussion. The WHO announced on Friday that it has approved the emergency vaccine developed by China’s Sinopharm.

According to The Associated Press, which quoted a Geneva-based trade official, around 80 WTO countries, mostly developing countries, have expressed support for the proposal.

“It’s also important to remember that abandoning intellectual property must go hand-in-hand with a transfer of technology and expertise for these elusive vaccines,” said Tedros.

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