House Republicans urge opposition to vaccine patent waiver

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Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday urged the U.S. trade representative to continue opposing a waiver to loosen patent and intellectual property protections on coronavirus vaccines.

The Biden administration is facing pressure from the international community, drug pricing advocates and congressional Democrats to back a move that would waive an international intellectual property agreement that protects pharmaceutical trade secrets.

The waiver proposal is being spearheaded by India and South Africa, which argue it would enable lower-income countries to manufacture the vaccines themselves, especially in light of the record-breaking wave of COVID-19 infections in India.

The Biden administration is expected to set its position clearly at a World Trade Organization meeting on Wednesday.

In a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, the Republicans, led by Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio) and Darrell Issa (Calif.), said the waiver would do little to improve public health.

“The requested waiver is extraordinarily broad and unnecessary to accomplish the goal of giving as many people as possible access to vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, including in developing countries,” they wrote. “Rather, the waiver would undermine the very innovation that has led to the record-breaking rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines already saving lives around the world, and it would not meaningfully improve vaccine availability.”

The lawmakers said the international community should instead focus on overcoming “the real obstacles faced by developing countries in accessing vaccines and treatments, which does not require waiving intellectual property (IP) rights.”

The Republicans suggested focusing on programs such as COVAX and the ACT Accelerator initiative.

“These efforts are providing real solutions for countries that need access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments without dismantling IP protections, even temporarily,” the lawmakers wrote. 

Democrats and international advocates argue President Biden has a moral imperative to act and to help the world and that sharing vaccine IP is the best way to do it. 

Administration officials have not tipped their hand, but White House chief of staff Ron Klain suggested when pressed recently that patents and other IP protections are not the main barriers to increasing global vaccine access.

Some experts similarly caution that simply waiving patents would not solve the problem, given that the vaccines are very difficult to produce. Having the recipe for a vaccine does not necessarily mean a drugmaker could produce it.

In an interview with the Financial Times on Monday, top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci suggested he was “agnostic” to the idea of an IP waiver but did not want to spend time being tied up in court because of the inevitable pharmaceutical industry lawsuits.

“If you take too long, people are going to die,” Fauci told the paper. “There are other ways to ramp up vaccine production around the world.”

Tags Anthony Fauci Coronavirus coronavirus pandemic coronavirus vaccine COVID-19 vaccines Darrell Issa inoculation Jim Jordan Joe Biden Katherine Tai Ron Klain

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