The European Union is willing to discuss a proposal to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday, as drugmakers fought their ground and their share prices slipped.
U.S. President Joe Biden voiced support on Wednesday for a waiver in a reversal of the U.S. position, and his top trade negotiator, Katherine Tai, swiftly endorsed negotiations at the World Trade Organization.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reached for capital letters in a tweet calling Biden’s move a “MONUMENTAL MOMENT IN THE FIGHT AGAINST #COVID19”, and said it reflected “the wisdom and moral leadership of the United States”.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told member states that she “warmly welcomed” the U.S. move, adding: “We need to respond urgently to COVID-19 because the world is watching and people are dying.”
Von der Leyen, speaking to the European University Institute in Florence, said the EU was ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis “in an effective and pragmatic manner”.
“That’s why we are ready to discuss how the U.S. proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective.”
But drugmakers – who have produced coronavirus vaccines in record time – said the proposal could have the opposite effect, by disrupting a stretched and fragile supply chain.
They urged rich countries instead to share vaccines more generously with the developing world.
And Germany, the EU’s biggest economic power and home to a large pharmaceutical sector, rejected the idea, saying the reasons for the lack of vaccines were capacity and quality standards.
This is a monumental moment in the fight against #COVID19. The commitment by @POTUS Joe Biden & @USTradeRep @AmbassadorTai to support the waiver of IP protections on vaccines is a powerful example of 🇺🇸 leadership to address global health challenges. pic.twitter.com/3iBt3jfdEr
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) May 5, 2021