After negotiations and debates and meetings, US President Joe Biden had backed an initiative by India and South Africa at the WTO to temporarily waive patent rules on COVID-19 vaccines, seen as a breakthrough in the global fight against the pandemic by potentially expanding the supply of the vaccines and more affordable doses for less wealthy nations.
While activists and humanitarian groups have cheered the Biden administration's decision and urged others to follow suit, European Union leaders are hammering home the message that any benefit from a temporary waiver of intellectual property protections would be long in coming. Instead, they took the US to task for not sharing more vaccines with the rest of the world.
European Union leaders stated that the most pressing impediments to COVID-19 vaccine supplies are not intellectual property rights but export bans and production capacity issues that need to be addressed before patent waivers should be considered.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel quickly weighed in against it, with a government spokesman saying it would cause severe complications for the production of vaccines.
French President Emmanuel Macron said: "You can give the intellectual property to laboratories that do not know how to produce it. They won't produce it tomorrow."
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said: "We believe it is insufficient. It should be more ambitious."
European leaders were skeptical that the US proposal to lift patent protections will solve the problem of getting shots into the arms of people in poorer countries, with some instead calling for more exports of the doses already being produced.
As news agency AP reported, EU officials insist rewriting rules in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) could take months or even a year, and say they've found few examples if any that intellectual property issues are what's holding up the rollout of vaccines. Supporters of a patent waiver have argued it would allow more factories around the world to produce the shots, increasing the supply, especially in poorer countries. The decision ultimately is up to the 164-member WTO, and if just one country votes against a waiver, the idea will fail.
-Inputs from AP via PTI