On the same day as a meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Council on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Council) in Geneva, where the Biden administration was explicitly opposing a proposal from South Africa and India, with support of the majority of the WTO’s member states to temporarily waive WTO intellectual property protections on COVID-19 medical technologies during the pandemic, a spokesperson for the U.S. Trade Representative told the Washington Post that the administration “is exploring every avenue to coordinate with our global partners and are evaluating the efficacy of this specific [waiver] proposal by its true potential to save lives.” Katherine Tai, Biden’s nominee for USTR, will appear before the Senate for a confirmation hearing on Thursday.
In reaction, Brook Baker, Health GAP Senior Policy Analyst and Northeastern University Professor of Law, said:
“President Biden was elected based on his promise to end the pandemic and break from Trump’s deadly ‘America first, America only,’ policies. Currently, big pharma’s strategy is to write off 90% of the world’s poorest from vaccine access this year. That’s unconscionable, anti-science, and will only prolong human devastation from COVID-19 in the U.S. and abroad.
“Doubling down on Trump’s embrace of big pharma is an unwelcome turn from the President, who, as a candidate, promised to share vaccine technology with the world. Supporting the TRIPS waiver proposal will send a message to pharma that the decision to write off the world’s poor is unacceptable to President Biden, and that pharma must come to the table on the terms demanded by any country in the world, not just the G7. That’s the kind of leadership President Biden promised – and that the world is demanding now.
“The solutions being pursued by the Biden administration won’t end this pandemic. $4 billion to COVAX won’t work as long as vaccine apartheid means artificial scarcity of vaccine supply. Financial contributions to a charitable mechanism mean nothing when the countries donating funds are also gobbling up the world’s vaccine supply and working to keep supply artificially limited by obstructing measures like the TRIPS waiver.
“Every day the Biden administration spends obstructing the TRIPS waiver proposal further delays COVID-19 vaccination for the 90% of people in low- and middle-income countries whose lives have been deemed expendable by pharma. Intellectual property barriers are real. The TRIPS waiver would help overcome them, set the world on a path to greatly expanded COVID-19 vaccine supply, and begin to put an end to the preventable suffering and death that under current conditions will continue until 2024, when the world would finally have access to the life-saving vaccines that are now nearly widely available to those living in wealthy countries. This proposal would save lives. There’s no time to waste.”