Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that a waiver for COVID-19 patent protections should not be off the table, while also pointing to other possible options to increase access to vaccines in lower-income countries.
“I think it’s certainly an option that we should not take off the table,” Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, told The Hill’s Steve Clemons.
“I believe we have a moral obligation, Steve, to make sure that the rest of the world does not suffer and die, as it were, from something that we can help them with and help to prevent,” he added.
President Biden has been under rising pressure from Democratic lawmakers and health advocacy groups to support the waiver of vaccine patents at the World Trade Organization, which backers argue would make the vaccine recipe available and allow lower-income countries to make doses themselves.
The White House has said it is deliberating and has not announced a position, though an announcement could come soon, given a WTO meeting on Wednesday.
Fauci also pointed to other options besides the waiver to increase global vaccine access.
“By whatever mechanism it takes,” Fauci said. “Whether that involves taking a look and examining whether you want to waive patent protection, whether it means making investments in a lot of money to have tech transfer go to the developing world so they can make their own vaccines.”
Some experts have said such “tech transfer,” meaning the know-how to make the complex vaccines, is more important than just the recipe and a patent waiver.
Another option, he said, is for the U.S. to “make billions more than we normally would and essentially make it available to the developing world at a markedly reduced price.”
“Any or all of the above is what I would say would be fine,” Fauci said at the event hosted by The Hill and sponsored by Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “We’ve got to get to the end game, and the end game is the equitable distribution of vaccines, so however we get there is fine with me, we just need to get there.”
Earlier in the week, Fauci told the Financial Times he was “agnostic” about the waiver, but also sounded a note of caution that it could lead to delays.
“Going back and forth, consuming time and lawyers in a legal argument about waivers — that is not the endgame,” he said. “People are dying around the world and we have to get vaccines into their arms in the fastest and most efficient way possible.”