U.S. reverses stance, backs giving poorer countries access to COVID-19 vaccine patents, tech
By Andrea Shalal, Jeff Mason and David Lawder WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden on Wednesday threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, bowing to mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers and more than 100 other countries, but angering pharmaceutical companies. Biden voiced his support for a temporary waiver - a sharp reversal of the previous U.S.
By Andrea Shalal, Jeff Mason and David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden on Wednesday threw his support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, bowing to mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers and more than 100 other countries, but angering pharmaceutical companies.
Biden voiced his support for a temporary waiver - a sharp reversal of the previous U.S. position - after a speech at the White House, followed swiftly by an official statement from his chief trade negotiator, Katherine Tai.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," Tai said in a statement, amid growing concern that big outbreaks in India could allow the rise of vaccine-resistant strains of the deadly virus, undermining a global recovery.
Shares in a number of makers of vaccines for COVID-19 tumbled on the news. Two of the biggest vaccine makers are U.S. companies - Moderna Inc and Pfizer Inc.
Biden's move won praise from the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who called it a "MONUMENTAL MOMENT IN THE FIGHT AGAINST #COVID19" on Twitter.
The Biden administration told pharmaceutical companies - which have reported sharp revenue and profit gains during the crisis - about its plans ahead of the announcement, a senior administration official said.
The pharmaceutical industry's biggest lobby group warned that Biden's unprecedented step would undermine the companies' response to the pandemic and compromise safety.
Biden, who backed a waiver during the 2020 presidential campaign, has made fighting the coronavirus a top priority of his administration and the rollout of vaccines in the United States has led to a decline in case numbers and deaths.
The Democratic president, who campaigned on a promise to re-engage with the world after four years of contentious relations between former President Donald Trump and U.S. allies, has come under intensifying pressure to share U.S. vaccine supply and technology to fight the virus around the globe.
His decision comes amid a devastating outbreak in India, which accounted for 46% of the new COVID-19 cases recorded worldwide last week, and signs that the outbreak is spreading to Nepal, Sri Lanka and other neighbors.
NEGOTIATIONS TO TAKE TIME
Wednesday's statement paved the way for what could be months of negotiations to hammer out a specific waiver plan. WTO decisions require a consensus of all 164 members.
Tai cautioned deliberations would take time. The United States would also continue to push for increased production and distribution of vaccines around the world, she said.
The United States and several other countries previously blocked negotiations at the WTO about a proposal led by India and South Africa to waive protections for some patents and technology and boost vaccine production in developing countries.
Critics of the waiver say producing mRNA vaccines is complex and setting up production at new facilities would divert resources from efforts to boost production at existing sites.
Tai spoke on Wednesday with several foreign counterparts and some U.S. lawmakers to explain the shift in the U.S. approach, an administration source said.
The U.S. government poured billions of dollars into research and advance purchases for COVID-19 vaccines last year when the shots were still in the early stages of development and it was unclear which, if any, would prove to be safe and effective at protecting against the virus.
Wednesday's move allows Washington to be responsive to the demands of the left and developing countries, while using WTO negotiations to narrow the scope of the waiver, said one source familiar with the deliberations. It also buys time to boost vaccine supplies through more conventional means.
Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the patent waiver “amounts to the expropriation of the property of the pharmaceutical companies whose innovation and financial investments made the development of COVID-19 vaccines possible in the first place.”
But proponents say the pharmaceutical companies will suffer only minor losses because any waiver would be temporary - and they will still be able to sell follow-on shots that could be required for years to come.
Pfizer said on Tuesday it expects COVID-19 vaccine sales of at least $26 billion this year and that demand for the shots from governments around the world fighting to halt the pandemic could contribute to its growth for years to come.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Jeff Mason, David Lawder, Steve Holland, Michael Erman and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Peter Cooney)
This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.
By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States
BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.