The Biden administration is examining ways to ensure that a waiver of COVID-19 vaccine patents to aid poor countries will not hand sensitive U.S. biopharmaceutical technology to China and Russia, responding to a chorus of concerns, U.S. and industry officials say.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday backed the U.S. entering negotiations at the World Trade Organization for the waiver of intellectual property rights as a means to boost vaccine supplies by allowing poorer countries to make their own.
So far, vaccines have gone overwhelmingly to richer nations, which scooped up contracts for them earlier this year. COVID-19 infection rates in wealthy countries have dropped as vaccination rates increased this year, but infections are still rising in 36 countries, with India’s daily cases skyrocketing to nearly 400,000 a day.
Western pharmaceutical companies, many of which have received government support to develop vaccines, strongly oppose the transfer of intellectual property to make them. They say poorer countries will be slow to set up manufacturing capacity and compete for scarce supplies, hitting production.
Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer Inc, said on Friday that the proposed waiver would disrupt progress made so far in boosting vaccine supplies. “It will unleash a scramble for the critical inputs we require in order to make a safe and effective vaccine. Entities with little or no experience in manufacturing vaccines are likely to chase the very raw materials we require to scale our production, putting the safety and security of all at risk.”