European leaders on Friday expressed growing skepticism that a U.S. proposal to remove patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines would solve the problem of getting shot in the arms of people in poorer countries, and some called for more dose exports. .
While activists and humanitarian groups have encouraged the decision of the Biden administration and urged others to follow suit, European Union leaders reject the message that any benefit from a temporary waiver of intellectual property protections Would take time to arrive.
Instead, they have taken to the United States, in particular, the task of not sharing more vaccines with the rest of the world.
“You can transfer intellectual property to laboratories that do not know how to produce it. They will not produce it tomorrow, “French President Emmanuel Macron said at a summit in Portugal, although he has also said he would agree to relinquish protections.
EU officials insist that rewriting rules at the World Trade Organization could take months or even a year, and say they have found few examples, if any, of intellectual property issues. they maintain the deployment of vaccines.
Proponents of a patent exemption have argued that it would allow more factories around the world to produce the injections, increasing supply, especially in the poorest countries. The decision ultimately rests with the 164 WTO members, and if only one country votes against a waiver, the idea will fail.
Macron said the key issues are really donations and exports, an argument also argued by the pharmaceutical industry, and said the U.S. should do more on that front.
The United States does not prohibit the export of vaccines or prohibit the export of vaccine ingredients.
But the federal government controls hundreds of millions of doses manufactured in the country under the terms of its contracts with drug manufacturers and is the first in the line of some raw materials produced by U.S. suppliers.
The United States has shipped nearly four million doses of its AstraZeneca vaccine stock to Canada and Mexico, which has not yet applied for authorization in the U.S., and plans to export up to 60 million doses in the coming months.
Last week, the US also redirected some raw materials used by AstraZeneca to India as part of its relief efforts for the affected country.
Macron boasted, however, that almost half of the doses produced in the EU have been allowed to be exported (approximately 200 million).
“We are the most generous in the world of developed nations,” he said.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday that the United States will “work with international partners, with pharmaceutical companies to increase supply, to get as much supply as possible to the global community.” .
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala echoed some of the sentiments expressed by European leaders at a virtual conference on Friday, noting that lifting patent protections could help expand fair access to vaccines, but perhaps it would not be the “critical problem” in expanding vaccine production. .
Other key steps include reducing vaccine export restrictions and the ingredients needed to make them, sharing the knowledge behind the shots, training manufacturing staff, and increasing manufacturing capacity globally.
Meanwhile, Germany, a research center with a strong biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector, spoke out against giving up protections and also urged more exports.
“The main issue is not the issue of patents. The main issue is the issue of production capacity, “said German Health Minister Jens Spahn, noting that producing vaccines such as the one developed by German company BioNTech and manufactured with Pfizer is very complicated.
Instead, he stressed that developed countries whose vaccination campaigns are doing well should export more shots.
“We will export a lot more,” he said. “I can only be welcomed if the United States changes its policy and makes vaccination doses available to other countries.”
Fatima Hassan, a human rights lawyer and director of the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa, welcomed the Biden administration’s announcement, but said it was “eight months too late.”
“We can’t basically wait for months for this waiver to end,” he said.
Hassan said countries that have “super-ordered” vaccines are “ironically blocking the waiver and ability of people in parts of the world with low incomes to access vaccines.”