EU urges Biden administration to increase vaccine exports

The European Union is urging the United States and other wealthy countries to expand their vaccine exports as a more immediate solution to curbing new waves of COVID-19 across the globe. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at a news conference during an EU summit in Portugal Friday that while a waiver for international patent protections for the vaccines could help expand access in the long-term, other countries should match what the EU is exporting in order to more quickly inoculate vulnerable populations. 

"We invite all those who engage in the debate of a waiver for (Intellectual Property) rights also to join us to commit to be willing to export a large share of what is being produced in that region," she said, according to The Associated Press

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced Wednesday that the Biden administration aimed to support a proposal for a vaccine patent protection waiver, which proponents of the move have said would allow the details behind vaccine production to become more widely available, thus enabling lower-income countries to manufacture vaccines themselves. 

Tai said the U.S. would begin participating in World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations on the waiver, and von der Leyen said Thursday that the EU would be open to participating in those discussions. 

However, the commission president and other European leaders are arguing that the EU has been particularly generous in sharing its vaccine supply with other parts of the world, and is urging other countries to do the same. 

"Around 50 percent of what is being produced in Europe is exported to almost 90 countries," said von der Leyen, who noted this week that the EU had distributed about 200 million doses within the bloc, as well as roughly the same amount to other countries outside the region, according to the AP.

She went on to say that "what is necessary in the short term and the medium term" is vaccine sharing, vaccine exports and "investment in the increasing of the capacity to manufacture vaccines," Reuters reported

French President Emmanuel Macron also noted Friday that while "you can give the intellectual property to laboratories that do not know how to produce it," these counties won't be able to "produce it tomorrow," thus fueling the need for an immediate increase in vaccine exports. 

While the U.S. and other Western nations have been relatively successful at making the coronavirus vaccine widely available to their own populations, countries like India, which is currently experiencing a record-breaking wave of infections, is struggling to distribute doses to its more than 1 billion citizens. 

Earlier this week, India became the second country to surpass 20 million COVID-19 cases, and as of Friday, has had a total of roughly 21.5 million infections and more than 234,000 fatalities as a result of the virus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University