Covid-19: USTR holds talks with Pfizer, Astrazeneca over increased vaccine production, IP rights waiver
United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai has held a virtual meeting with AstraZeneca and Pfizer leadership to discuss increasing vaccine production and a proposed waiver to certain provisions of the WTO's agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the Covid-19 pandemic.
The United States so far has remained non-committal on the World Trade Organization's (WTO) move of India and South Africa over this.
The White House on Monday told reporters that no decision has been made yet, even as top American lawmakers urged the Biden administration to support the move at WTO to provide TRIPS waiver to Covid-19 vaccines.
"As the US approaches vaccinating our population, we cannot simply stand by as over a 100 countries struggle to vaccinate theirs. We must push Pfizer and Moderna to offer licensing to the rest of the world so they can develop vaccines and advocate a trips waiver at the WTO," Indian-American Congressman Ro Khanna told PTI.
Reiterating that the Biden-Harris administration’s top priority is saving lives and ending the pandemic here at home and around the world, Tai expressed her deep sympathy for the people of India.
She highlighted the announcement that the United States was examining options to share AstraZeneca vaccine doses with other countries as they become available, an official statement said.
Tai's meeting was with Dr Ruud Dobber, executive vice-president of the biopharmaceuticals business unit and head of the US business at AstraZeneca.
She had a separate meeting with Dr Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer.
"Ambassador Tai and Dr Dobber discussed increasing vaccine production, global health issues and the proposed waiver to certain provisions of the WTO's Agreement on TRIPS for the Covid-19 pandemic," the USTR said in a readout of the meeting.
“United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today (Monday) met virtually with Dr Albert Bourla, chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, to discuss increasing vaccine production, global health issues and the proposed waiver to certain provisions of the WTO's Agreement on TRIPS for the Covid-19 pandemic,” it added.
Ahead of a May 5 meeting of the WTO’s General Council, Senator Tammy Baldwin joined a group of 10 senators and sent a letter to Biden, urging him to publicly support a temporary patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines that would allow countries to manufacture treatments locally, expediting the global vaccination effort, saving countless lives and crushing the pandemic.
“Your administration has the opportunity to reverse the damage done by the Trump administration to our nation’s global reputation and restore America’s public health leadership on the world stage,” the senators wrote.
“To bring the pandemic to its quickest end and save the lives of Americans and people around the world, we ask that you prioritise people over pharmaceutical company profits by reversing the Trump position and announcing US support for the WTO TRIPS waiver,” they added.
The proposal to temporarily waive the WTO’s intellectual property rules was put forward by South Africa and India in October, and will be a focus at the body’s meeting early next month.
Over 60 former heads of state and 100 Nobel Prize winners signed a letter last week to Biden backing the effort.
In a poll conducted by the Data for Progress and Progressive International, 60 per cent of American voters backed the waiver, including 50 per cent of registered Republicans.
In February, more than 400 prominent US health, faith, consumer, labour, development and other organisations wrote to Biden, urging him to reverse Trump’s block on the waiver.
Khanna said the Biden Administration should call on Pfizer and Moderna to provide an intellectual property waiver for six months to a year as India grapples with this crisis.
“It will buy them an inordinate amount of goodwill in one of the largest emerging markets. The White House should also convene Indian business leaders to make the case for why this is in these companies’ long-term strategic interest,” he said.
“India has their own IP and they are also manufacturer of vaccines. Some of it has been delayed. The last time we really communicated about this at a high-level was from our USTR, Katherine Tai, but I don't have any updates to that," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.