Biden Urged to Stand ‘On the Side of Humanity’ and Back Waiver for Covid Vaccine Patents

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer at Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams

The U.S. is facing sustained calls to end its opposition of a proposal to temporarily lift intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines and related technology as soaring coronavirus cases ravage India and new reporting spotlights a debate within the Biden administration over whether to support the patent suspension effort to help tackle the global pandemic or prioritize Big Pharma’s interests.

At issue, as the Washington Post reported Friday, is a proposal India and South Africa submitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO) last October to suspend Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments to boost manufacturing capacity. It’s now cosponsored by 60 nations and backed by over 100 countries as well as hundreds of U.S. and international civil society organizations, former world world leaders and Nobel laureates, and some U.S. lawmakers.

In addition to the U.S., other wealthy nations including the U.K. and Canada are blocking the proposal—which needs consensus to pass.

The WTO’s TRIPS panel met Friday to discuss the proposal, and it’s now being revisedby its cosponsors.

Asked Friday whether the U.S. would continue its opposition, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration has not yet confirmed its stance and said the White House’s “overall objective is to provide as much supply to the global community and do that in a cost-effective manner.”

According to the Post: “The debate has reignited decades-old tensions in global health, pitting such influential figures as Pope Francis, who backs the patent-waiver proposal, against philanthropist Bill Gates, who’s opposed. It has also challenged U.S. officials who have prioritized this nation’s coronavirus response but know that the virus’s continued spread and mutation overseas will eventually pose risks to Americans.”

White House chief medial adviser Anthony S. Fauci and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai discussed the proposal last week, the Post reported, with Fauci indicating support for it and Tai considering it. She indicated an openness last month when she told a virtual WTO conference that “we have to consider what modifications and reforms to our trade rules might be necessary.”

She also got input on the matter from powerful philanthropist Bill Gates, the Postreported. Gates made clear Sunday that he’s opposed to lifting such patent protections.

In addition, the Post reported, “other officials in the Commerce Department and the coronavirus task force warn that waiving the patents could backfire, including by handing intellectual property to international rivals. They also say that allowing new manufacturers to compete for scarce vaccine ingredients and expertise could hinder existing production, and that donating doses to countries in need would be more efficient.”

But the chorus of outside voices urging wealthier nations to drop their opposition to the waiver is strong and swelling. It includes Fatima Hassan, who leads South Africa’s Health Justice Initiative and told the Post, “It’s really amazing to me that you have one of the most powerful countries in the world, and it can’t take on four CEOs.”

Other prominent voices calling on President Joe Biden to back the TRIPS waiver proposal include former Irish President and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.

“We have to be on the side of humanity and life saving in a crisis,” she told BBC News.

Oxfam Great Britain CEO Danny Sriskandarajah made the case for the patent waiver this week and put the need in the context of India’s current surge in Covid-19 cases—what he called “a tsumani.”

“We’re putting the interests of a few big pharmaceuticals above the interests of people around the world,” Sriskandarajah said on the BBC‘s “Question Time. “No one is safe until everyone is safe and the best way to do that is to loosen the rules on who owns the rights to produce the vaccines.”

India reported over 400,000 Covid-19 cases in a single day Friday—a global record. The case surge prompted the Biden administration to ban entry to the U.S. any non-U.S. citizens or permanent residents traveling from India.

Doctors Without Borders, which supports the TRIPS waiver, warned Friday that “the second wave of Covid-19 is reaching extremely alarming levels in India,” and “has devastated the healthcare system and overwhelmed frontline workers.”

Sharing the Post‘s report, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also addressed the current outbreak in India.

Warren  tweeted that the “Covid-19 outbreak in India is a humanitarian crisis that threatens its 1.4 billion citizens, and billions more around the world. I’m urging President Biden—and our vaccine manufacturers—to use every tool possible to help with this crisis.”

As of Thursday, according to the New York Times, India had vaccinated just 1.8% of its population, and the country’s “major vaccine companies are struggling to increase production.”

In the U.S., by contrast, 39% of adults have been fully vaccinated.

Such a divide, say humanitarian aid and social justice organizations, must not be allowed to continue.

“Policymakers have to make a choice: do they support a #PeoplesVaccine to end vaccine apartheid, or do they work for big pharma?” Health GAP tweeted Friday. “The whole world is watching.”

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  1. Kevin Smith

    Patents are utterly useless without access to the systems and procedures, and trade secrets, involved in the actual production of the vaccines.

    And then there is the issue of access to the BIG network of outside suppliers and contractors which is essential to the equipment, software, and reagents necessary for the production of these vaccines.

    1. phacops

      Nations like India, have the production capability. While I have issues with their Good Manufacturing Practices, I have little doubt about their capability. I know that it is pissing into the wind, but I just had to write the White House.

      “President Biden:

      I am writing to urge you to back the patent waiver for COVID vaccine production so that nations, like India or S. Africa can manufacture these critical preventatives. WE are not safe until EVERYBODY is safe, as unchecked replication of SARS-CoV-2 means that variants will continually threaten the health of our nation.

      I have worked in both basic research and in Pharmaceutical manufacturing, in Quality/Process Validation, where my primary concern was to assure the delivery of product meeting standards of efficacy, quality and safety to patients. My thought has always been one of service. Now is the time for you to be of service to humanity and provide developing nations with the tools to keep their populations, and us, safe.”

      I’ve also contributed to COVAX. It disturbs me that nations like India or Thailand face procurement difficulties while Americans are refusing the vaccine.

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I believe this push to suspend the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Corona vaccines and treatments to boost manufacturing capacity could open a real can-of-worms. I can only imagine the Gordian Knot of patents and trade secrets, also special equipment, software, and vendor supply chains behind each of the three different vaccines US Big Pharma is producing. I believe some of the patents involved represent entirely new technology which Big Pharma hopes will enable it to develop extremely profitable new treatments for a long list of diseases. The Corona pandemic and Trump enabled Big Pharma to push through the EUA and liability protections they wanted and twist the US Government to fund much of their production development efforts, guarantee purchase of their product, deliver millions of willing test subjects, and push vaccine delivery chain issues — like super-freezers — onto the US State Governments. I can only wonder what sort of deals were made behind closed doors to enable this. I wonder how temporary could be the transfer to other countries of the know-how required to produce US mRNA, and DNA Corona vaccines. I believe it would effectively unravel large parts of the monopolies US Big Pharma have built to squeeze profits out of rich and poor. I think a TRIPS waiver obtained using the Corona pandemic as a lever is highly unlikely — although the suggestion does nicely black the eyes of the US and US Big Pharma. It is a clever political maneuver.

      But ask whether the US mRNA and DNA based Corona vaccines, and their European counterparts are the only or best vaccines for dealing with the Corona pandemic. I suspect the technologies and know-how for producing killed virus vaccines are off-patent and would require no TRIPS waiver and represent far less knowledge transfer. I am skeptical of how much better the US mRNA and DNA based vaccines for protecting against the Corona virus are than old-school killed virus vaccines … if they are indeed better. After reading the new releases on research indicating unhappy consequences of exposing lung tissues and arterial tissues as described in a report which flora May 2, 2021 at 10:35 am comment points to in loday’s links — the rest of the world may do better using well-designed public health policy than using any of the currently available vaccines.

      1. phacops

        And, don’t forget that Novavax and its recombinent, pre-fusion, spike protein has made a submission to South Korea. A robust vaccine with great adjuvants (materials that “prime”the immune system). If Korea approves I bet the nations in the ASEAN compact will follow. That will be a game changer for developing nations. And, producing such material reliably has been solved a decade or more ago. And, I believe that blow-fill-seal technology is familiar to asian firms, sidestepping vial and closure suppliers.

  2. Firestarter

    I don’t understand why a country like India that has significant pharma manufacturing capabilities are waiting for approval to make the vaccines needed to save the lives of their population. They should just f@$!ing do it–patent be dammend. They should dare the US and big pharma to take them to court. MAYBE the US/Pharma wins in a court of law, but they sure as hell would loss “bigly” in the court of public opinion.

  3. tegnost

    Is it just me or is it ironic to call bill gates, when describing how he’s against suspending patent protection(ism?), as a philanthropist?

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, both.

        When did anyone who knows the score ever call Gates a philanthropist? May be his friends and business partners Ghislaine and Isabelle Maxwell do?

        Much of the money the Gates tax dodge aka foundation disburses is from British and French taxpayers, the latter from aviation taxes earmarked for AIDS.

        The positioning over vaccine patents is most welcome though. It will teach the third world lessons that need repeating over and over again, not that the third world ever learns, sadly.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        If you can’t trust, the target of a major anti-trust action who can you trust?

    1. shinola

      When I read that, my thought was: Some editor was asleep on the job. It should be …”philanthropist” Bill Gates or …(so-called) philanthropist…

      In the Good Ol’ USA the “right-to- profit” supercedes any other concern.

  4. Mantid

    The fight over vaccines, vaccine patents/passports would all be moot if the WHO, CDC and NIH, NHS, HIS et al would promote the use of Ivermectin. It’s a game changer. It’s cheap, off patent and we don’t need Bill Gates’ permission to use it.

    Remember how Mexico City was becoming overwhelmed with Covid? Since Mexico’s Ministry of Health began allowing for the use of Ivermectin during all stages of Covid’s rampage (including prophylactically) there are no hospitals in Mexico that are being overwhelmed with Covid patients.

    The inverse happened in India, they stopped using Ivermectin and went (nearly) all in with vaccines. One good sign is that the AIIMS (Delhi) has just begun using Ivermectin for home care treatment and mild-moderate Covid 19 as of April 22. Sure enough, Delhi’s case numbers are just beginning to decline (substantially) and so are cases in Uttar Pradesh, Madhaya Pradesh and other states distributing Ivermecin. Observe and track India’s numbers here:

    Also view FLCCC’s weekly Covid update specifically speaking about India, Peru, Mexico with pos/neg updates regarding Ivermectin. Skim to 20 minutes for info on India. Very clear pattern presenting itself.

  5. NotTimothyGeithner

    I wish more “science believers” (belief in science is such a tell) had an effing clue. Never mind the moral implications, the geopolitical interests and every domestic sector of the United States so Pfizer and Merck can have a slightly higher share price.

    1. Robert Hahl

      I worked at Merck in the early ’80s and generally had a good impression, but in retrospect a few things they boasted about changed my mind. One was that the pharmaceutical industry was among the most profitable industries, along with tobacco and soft drinks. Another was that Merck had more potential products sitting on the shelf than other companies had in their pipelines. This boast was meant to imply they had super high research standards, but in the fullness of time I realized all it meant was that they have super-high profit margin standards.

    2. John Wright

      The support for patent protection might be far deeper than protecting Pfizer and Merck’s profits.

      The USA has staked its economic future on rent extraction via intellectual property as that one of the features of the TPP that Obama wanted to push through.

      That much manufacturing in the USA was moved overseas is not a political concern, but protecting USA future profits from Intellectual Property is.

      The world can look at the USA’s actions in NOT respecting British IP in the 19th century for a guideline.

      “But the Americans had no respect for British intellectual property protections. They had fought for independence to escape the mother country’s suffocating economic restrictions. In their eyes, British technology barriers were a pseudo-colonial ploy to force the United States to serve as a ready source of raw materials and as a captive market for low-end manufactures. While the first U.S. patent act, in 1790, specified that “any person or persons” could file a patent, it was changed in 1793 to make clear that only U.S. citizens could claim U.S. patent protection.”

      I suggest there are many politicians (Repub and Dem) that will quietly undermine any attempt to temporarily remove patent protection for vaccines because of the precedent it might set in other areas with direct effect on foreign citizens lives (other drug patents, agricultural patents and medical patents).

      If Biden and the USA continue to fight for patent protection of vaccines, one side effect might be that it will be more difficult for the USA to pitch its global military “humanitarian interventions” to the USA citizens and the world when the USA appears to be choosing profits over foreign citizens’ lives when convenient for profits while claiming deadly foreign military actions are “for their own good” at other times.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        This TRIPS play raises larger questions about the ethics of large areas of patent and intellectual property law along with questions about the nature and benefit of the current US World Trade constructs. I believe it raises disturbing questions about the future of the US Neoliberal dominion of the world — especially as the World encounters the diseases and plagues of the near future, and the disasters of Climate Chaos, resource exhaustion, and brittle logistics chains.

  6. cocomaan

    Is the US really “facing sustained calls”? I don’t think anyone gives a damn. If anything, they’ve turned their back on this idea and are no longer facing it.

    The US might do it, but only after the period of maximum profitability has passed.

  7. Glen

    We are not out of the woods with regard to CV-19. To do anything other than an all out effort to give the whole world a vaccine jab is foolish and short sited.

    1. Charger01

      When you’re only thinking about the next quarter, you don’t see the people you hurt throughout the year.

  8. lambert strether

    Marshall Plan for vaccines?

    Liberal Democrats: Gee, I don’t know….

  9. George Phillies

    16 months ago Moderna said it was suspending patent protection on its Covid-19 vaccine.

    This action has no effect on production capacity.

    1. Sastun

      Suspending patent protection is NOT the same as freely distributing technical know-how. It’s like saying ‘if you manage to figure out what we did, we won’t go after you…for now’.

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