The US has backed a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines in a move likely to enrage the pharmaceutical industry, which strongly opposes the waiving of patents.
Joe Biden’s top trade adviser Katherine Tai said that while the US administration “believes strongly” in IP protections, it would support a waiver of those rules for Covid-19 vaccines.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” Tai said in a statement.
In theory, a waiver would allow any pharmaceutical manufacturer in the world to make “copycat” vaccines without fear of being sued for intellectual property infringement.
Shares in the big makers of the coronavirus vaccine were hit by the announcement on Wednesday. Moderna, BioNTech, and Novavax closed down by between 3 percent and 6 percent in New York.
The companies did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A measure to allow countries to temporarily override patent rights for pandemic-related medical products was proposed at the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa in October and has since been backed by almost 60 countries.
Donald Trump’s administration firmly opposed the waiver, along with the UK, EU, and Switzerland, but Tai had rattled US pharmaceutical companies by putting that position under review.
Tai said the US would “actively participate” in negotiations at the WTO to hammer out the text of the waiver, but added those discussions would take time given the complexity of the issues involved.
“As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the administration will continue to ramp up its efforts — working with the private sector and all possible partners — to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution,” Tai said.
“It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines,” she added.