Biden administration supports easing patent rights on COVID vaccines in effort to accelerate global distribution, breaking from European Union

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Scientists, community members, and activists held a march and rally outside Moderna’s headquarters in Cambridge as part of a national week of action for fair access to vaccines. Credit: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe
Scientists, community members, and activists held a march and rally outside Moderna’s headquarters in Cambridge as part of a national week of action for fair access to vaccines. Credit: David L. Ryan/Boston Globe

The Biden administration, in a major decision [May 5], said it would support easing patent rules on Covid-19 vaccines after intense internal debate and strong pushback from American drugmakers, potentially expanding the global supply and narrowing the vaccination gap between rich and poor nations.

The move is preliminary and will not guarantee the global patent rules are lifted right away. But the Biden administration’s signal of support amounts to a major step that aid groups and Democrats had been pressing for.

“The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” US Trade Representative Katherine Tai wrote in a statement.

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Members of the WTO must unanimously decide whether to loosen the restrictions. And while the US had been a hold out, other countries — including the European Union and Switzerland — have also resisted the step.

“The Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible,” Tai said in her statement. “As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts — working with the private sector and all possible partners — to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution.”

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