The Japan Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association on Friday opposed U.S. support for a temporary waiver of coronavirus vaccine patent rights held by pharmaceutical companies, saying such a move could exacerbate global shortages of vital components for vaccines and stoke anxiety about product quality.
Earlier this week, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said President Joe Biden's administration will support the idea of an intellectual property waiver to help expand global vaccine supplies as part of efforts to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
Such a waiver is being discussed at the World Trade Organization, with its chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala welcoming Washington's stance.
World Health Organization Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus, who has already expressed support for the U.S. move, urged other countries to follow suit.
"I know that this is not a politically easy thing to do, so I very much appreciate the leadership of the United States, and we urge other countries to follow their example," the WHO chief said Friday.
The Japanese industry body argued that an intellectual property waiver would not necessarily guarantee the production of vaccines with quality equivalent to those currently available.
The group said it is concerned that noneffective products may circulate, and the risk of side effects could increase as well.
"We are deeply concerned that if vaccines are made in an uncontrollable environment, it will intensify scarcity of raw materials as well as further disperse and disrupt supply chains, possibly leading to a further delay in distributions," the association said in a statement.
With unequal availability of vaccines in many parts of the world, the Biden administration has been facing pressure from Democratic lawmakers and other countries to share the intellectual property to boost vaccine production.
Following the U.S. announcement of its support, French President Emmanuel Macron said he was absolutely in favor of a waiver on patent protection for COVID-19 vaccines, while Germany opposes the idea.
The government of Japan, where domestic vaccines for the coronavirus are not yet available, has not clearly shown its stance on the idea of a patent waiver.