The Biden administration has announced its support of a temporary waiver on intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines, partially reversing its earlier opposition.
In response to the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s proposal from October 2020 to provide waivers on IP covering broadly the “prevention, containment or treatment of COVID-19,” the U.S. is now supporting a partial waiver in relation only to vaccines, saying:
"This is a global health crisis and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines."
The U.S. will participate in WTO negotiations to reach an agreement on the waiver, but the Biden administration warned that such negotiations will take time, “given the complexity of the issues involved” and the fact that an agreement would require a consensus among all 164 WTO members. Numerous countries remain opposed to any waiver, including the European Union, the U.K., and Japan.
Supporters of the waiver argued that relaxing intellectual property protections would reduce barriers to vaccine access worldwide, increasing the rates of vaccination and reducing the spread of COVID-19. Opponents argued that supply chain and logistical issues are the real barriers to vaccine access, rather than intellectual property and that a waiver will hand over American technology to adversarial nations without accomplishing the goal of stopping the pandemic.
It remains to be seen whether consensus can be reached, and how long such a waiver would be in place.