The Biden administration said it will begin talks this week with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over lifting intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines as activists and foreign leaders call on it to support a growing movement to waive concerned patents for the benefit of poorer nations.
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said during a televised interview Sunday that Katherine Tai, the United States’ top trade negotiator, will be headed to the WTO to open talks on “how we can get this vaccine more widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared.”
The announcement was made as pressure from activists, progressive politicians and foreign leaders mounts on the White House to support waiving pharmaceutical patents on vaccine production to allow poorer countries to make their own versions of the shot.
Early last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told President Jose Biden in a phone call about a motion it brought before the WTO along with South Africa to waive certain trade provisions concerning vaccines, according to a readout of the call from Modi’s office.
“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic,” the leaders said in a letter sent to the president by The People’s Vaccine movement. “With your leadership, we can ensure Covid-19 vaccine technology is shared with the world.”
At the current rate of immunization in poorer nations, many will be waiting until at least 2024 to get the shot, they said.
In March, World Health Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also called for patents to be waived to put the world “on a war footing.”
“I don’t believe that globally we’re exercising our full manufacturing muscle at present,” he saud. “Let’s not be held back by politics, business as usual or those that say we can’t.”
Klain said Sunday that intellectual property rights are only part of the problem with manufacturing being more to blame for vaccine supply issues.
India has a domestic vaccine called Covishield and production there has slowed due to a lack of raw materials, he said, adding the United States has sent enough to make some 20 million does as the country battles another surge in cases.
“Manufacturing is the biggest problem,” he said. “We have a factory here in the U.S. that has the full intellectual property rights to make the vaccine. They aren’t making doses because the factory has problems.”