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Iran Press TV

After hoarding, West bickers on sharing patents as virus kills in droves

Iran Press TV

Saturday, 08 May 2021 10:29 AM

Major Western European countries have expressed reservations about a proposal to waive patent rights on COVID-19 vaccines – now backed by US President Joe Biden – insisting that key to ending the coronavirus outbreak was faster manufacturing and sharing the vaccine.

The Friday development came as experts emphasized that waivers could take years to negotiate, and would not address the immediate need to rapidly manufacture more doses of the vaccines, saying that while the pandemic rages on across the globe, it is highly likely that even more dangerous new variants of the contagion will emerge.

The pharmaceutical industry in the US and Western Europe, however, insists that the most expedient approach is to overcome existing production bottlenecks, and sell or donate vaccines to other countries around the world.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the question of sharing patents was not the issue of the day, slamming Britain and the US for blocking the export of vaccines and their ingredients to the wider world.

EU leaders, meanwhile, were due to discuss the suggestion to share vaccine intellectual property at a two-day summit that opened in the Portuguese city of Porto on Friday, but remained divided on its usefulness.

Some EU officials argue that it could take two years to agree on the waivers in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), most likely making it irrelevant to the current pandemic.

"What is the current issue? It is not really about intellectual property. Can you give intellectual property to laboratories that do not know how to produce and will not produce tomorrow?" Macron said prior to attending the summit.

"The main issue for solidarity is the distribution of doses," the French president added, noting that France was working hand in hand with Germany on the issue. Berlin expressed its opposition to the patent waiver proposal on Thursday.

This is while the EU, which is among the biggest producers of vaccines in the world, is also the major exporter, with 200 million doses already shipped outside the bloc. The US and Britain, however, have not exported any of the vaccines they have made.

Lashing out at both the US and the UK, Macron said, "In order for the vaccine to circulate, the ingredients and the vaccines themselves cannot be blocked. Today the Anglo- Saxons block many of these ingredients and vaccines."

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen echoed Macron's remarks, saying during a press briefing after the first day of the Porto summit that the EU should be open to a discussion on the patents but added that sharing the technology was no quick remedy for the pandemic.

"In the short and medium term, the IP waiver will not solve the problems, it will not bring a single dose of vaccine in the short and medium term," she added.

"No one will be safe until we all are. If vaccination takes place only in developed countries, our victory over Covid-19 will only be short-lived. We are seeing how quickly the virus is mutating, creating new variants that entail new challenges," the leaders of Belgium, Sweden, France, Denmark and Spain said in a joint letter to the Commission.

"Vaccines have become security policy and the EU cannot afford to lag behind; to this end, an increased European production capacity will be a key priority," they emphasized.

The developments came after Biden on Wednesday backed a call from India and South Africa to waive patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines amidst a global surge of Covid-19 cases and in response to pressure from Democratic lawmakers and more than 100 other nations, but enraging pharmaceutical companies.

"The extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," said US trade representative Katherine Tai, committing to "text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization."

Meanwhile, India's health ministry reported on Friday 4,187 fatalities over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to nearly 240,000. The number of infections also surged by 401,078, increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 21.9 million.

Though it is the world's biggest vaccine maker, India continues to struggle in efforts to produce and distribute enough doses to stem the wave of COVID-19.

The second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in India has brought the nation's healthcare system to the brink of collapse, with patients dying due to lack of oxygen or access to hospital beds.

EU leaders are likely to hear advice from the bloc's executive, the European Commission, that a waiver would not help boost production, especially in poorer countries, as the manufacturing process requires advanced technologies and facilities, officials said.

The US firm Moderna waived patent rights in October on its vaccine, which uses the latest mRNA technology, but no other firm has yet announced that it will try to copy the shot.

Germany, home to BioNTech, which owns a patent on another mRNA vaccine developed jointly with Pfizer of the United States, opposes waivers, while Italy supports them, EU officials said.

According to press reports, Washington has long played as both architect and enforcer of the intellectual property (IP) regime, threatening sanctions against countries such as Brazil, Thailand and South Africa for daring to promote the generic production of life-saving medicines.

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