France’s president sought to turn the tables on the Biden administration following its call for vaccine patent waivers, accusing “Anglo-Saxon” countries of hindering global supplies of life-saving jabs.
Emmanuel Macron said the debate over intellectual property sparked by the US was a sideshow compared to existing barriers to the export of vaccines and ingredients, and the need for voluntary schemes to share doses with poorer countries.
At an EU summit in the Portuguese city of Porto, he took aim at the US specifically, remarking that the country reserved homemade doses of vaccines for domestic use.
“Today, the Anglo-Saxons block lots of these ingredients and vaccines,” Macron said. “What is the real issue right now? It is not really about intellectual property. You can give the intellectual property to laboratories that do not know how to produce it.”
Also speaking in Porto, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said she was willing to engage in the discussion over IP waivers, but added that other vaccine-producing regions needed to follow the EU and permit a big chunk of their production to be exported.
The comments came two days after President Joe Biden’s top trade adviser, Katherine Tai, said the US would support a waiver of intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines. Such a move would allow pharmaceutical manufacturers to make “copycat” vaccines without fear of being sued for infringing intellectual property rights.
The Biden administration’s proposal wrongfooted the EU and prompted a frosty response from leading member states including Germany, home to the pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which together with Pfizer makes one of the leading Covid-19 vaccines.
Macron said he was willing to discuss intellectual property matters, but that it was not the critical issue that needed to be addressed, as he defended the EU’s record on vaccine production and exports.
Other constraints, such as export bans and the limited availability of raw materials, were having a more decisive impact than patent protections on the world’s ability to increase vaccine production, the EU argues.
“We have not been given a single example where [production] capacity has been restricted because of the protection of patents or other IP rights,” said one commission official.
Von der Leyen said that while she was “open” to the discussion on a patent waiver, such a move would not bring forward a single extra vaccine dose in the short and medium term. Those who engaged in the IP waiver debate should, like the EU, be willing to export “a large share of what is being produced in that region,” she said, in a clear challenge to the US.
The EU has exported approximately 200m vaccine doses so far, a similar number to those delivered to its own citizens, said von der Leyen. By contrast, very few vaccine shots have left the US.
EU officials said that Washington had given the EU advance notice of the patent move shortly before it was made public on Wednesday, but that there was no consultation or attempt to co-ordinate positions. “If you ask me what needs to happen next, the first thing is that the US explains exactly what they mean with the announcement they made — we have not seen anything but a very general statement,” said an official.
Brussels is now trying to decide how to respond, and European leaders are due to discuss the matter at a summit dinner in Porto on Friday evening.
“Whether there is a waiver or not a waiver, the problem goes well beyond that,” said a commission official earlier on Friday, citing issues including the need to keep supply chains open — with mRNA vaccines drawing on 280 components sourced from 19 countries.
Another issue, according to the official, was that access to patents was not the same as acquiring the knowledge to make a vaccine. Approximately 80 to 100 patents were involved in the creation of an mRNA vaccine, the official said, adding that even access to all of them “doesn’t give you the overview how to produce the vaccine, for that you need the know how and the technology”.
Brussels also argues that existing international agreements on intellectual property already offer some flexibilities to sharing vaccine IP, including possibilities for compulsory licensing.
The EU has over recent months resisted a push led by India and South Africa within the World Trade Organization for a vaccine patent waiver. Brussels is concerned that it will face international pressure to shift position in the talks at the WTO, currently scheduled for early June, although there is now a chance that a meeting could be organised this month, according to trade officials.
A senior Biden administration official said there was now a chance for the WTO to come together to deliver solutions that help save lives. “We will continue to ramp up our efforts — working with the private sector and all possible partners — to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution around the world and increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines.”
#Macron #slams #AngloSaxons #hindering #vaccine #exports