The Biden administration announced this week that it would launch discussions with the World Trade Organization over lifting intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccinations, as campaigners and international leaders advocate for the change to help developing countries.
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told CBS’s Face the Nation in an interview Sunday that Katherine Tai, the United States’ top trade negotiator, will head to the WTO to open talks on “how we can get this vaccine more widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared.”
The decision comes after campaigners, radical lawmakers, and international leaders put pressure on the White House to accept waiving pharmaceutical patents on vaccine manufacturing, allowing developing nations to produce their own copies of the shot.
Early last week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told President Joe 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.
The motion calls for the waiver to be in place “until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world’s population has developed immunity.”
The call between the two heads of state was made as India battles another surge in cases. In the last two days, Indian health officials have reported some 800,000 infections and more than 7,000 deaths.
More than 170 heads of state and Nobel laureates, including former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, urged Biden to accept the motion in mid-April.
“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic,” the founders of The People’s Vaccine campaign wrote in a letter to President Obama. “With your leadership, we can insure COVID-19 vaccine technology is shared with the world.”
According to the current rate of immunisation in developing countries, more people will have to wait until at least 2024 to get the vaccine.
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 said. “Let’s not be held back by politics, business as usual or those that say we can’t.”
Klain said on Sunday that intellectual property rights are just a part of the problem, and that manufacturing is more to blame for vaccine supply problems.
India has a domestic vaccine named Covishield, and manufacturing has slowed due to a shortage of raw materials, he added, adding that the US has sent enough to produce approximately 20 million doses as the country faces another increase in cases.
“Manufacturing is the biggest problem,” he said. “We have a facility in the United States and complete intellectual property rights to manufacture the vaccine. They aren’t producing doses because the plant is having issues.”