The head of the World Health Organization says the US backing of a proposed waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID vaccines is a “monumental moment” in the fight against the virus.
The move could significantly boost vaccine production around the world by lifting patents, copyrights and protections for industrial design and confidential information.
It is an issue that has become more urgent with the surge of cases in India, the world’s second-most populous country.
WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has repeatedly urged countries to support the proposal, which was initially brought to the World Trade Organisation by India and South Africa.
After the announcement by the Biden administration, he said on Twitter: “This is a monumental moment in the fight against COVID19.
“The commitment by @POTUS Joe Biden and @USTradeRep @AmbassadorTai to support the waiver of IP protections on vaccines is a powerful example of United States leadership to address global health challenges.”
More than 100 countries support the proposal and Mr Biden had been under pressure from a group within Congress – all fellow Democrats who also backed the waiver.
Those in favour of the move say that the WTO has always had such waivers in its toolbox and there is no better time to use them than during a pandemic that has killed 3.2 million people, infected more than 400 million more, and ruined economies worldwide.
But those against it say producing coronavirus vaccines is difficult and cannot be sped up simply by easing intellectual property laws.
They also say that lifting such intellectual property protections could hurt future innovation – companies can spend a lot of money researching such breakthroughs and they rely on the protections to make sure their work is not then copied by others for their own profits.