The United States will support waiving intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines to help expand global vaccine supplies amid the ongoing pandemic, the country's top trade envoy Katherine Tai said Wednesday.
Noting that "extraordinary measures" are needed to tackle the global health crisis, the U.S. trade representative said in a statement that the administration of President Joe Biden will support the IP waiver "in service of ending this pandemic."
"We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization needed to make that happen," she said, but noted that the talks will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.
The Biden administration has been facing calls from developing countries to share the technology behind the vaccines to help beef up production. But the pharmaceutical industry has resisted the idea.
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations called the U.S. announcement "disappointing" and asserted that a waiver is "the simple but the wrong answer to what is a complex problem."
"Waiving patents of COVID-19 vaccines will not increase production nor provide practical solutions needed to battle this global health crisis," the Geneva-based federation said, noting that "the real challenges" are trade barriers, scarcity of raw materials and ingredients in the supply chain and "a willingness by rich countries to start sharing doses with poor countries."
Tai said in her statement that the Biden administration will ramp up its efforts by working with the private sector and other partners to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution, given that vaccine supply for people in the United States is "secured."
The death toll from the pandemic, which began to accelerate from early last year, has totaled more than 3 million. The World Health Organization has been warning of the gap between the number of vaccines administered in rich and poor countries.
The United States has suffered more deaths than any other country in the world from the novel coronavirus, but its situation is improving as a massive vaccination campaign is under way with three types of product authorized for use in the country -- all developed by U.S. companies such as Pfizer Inc.
WHO Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus hailed the U.S. announcement, calling it a "powerful example of American leadership to address global health challenges."
Biden has been eager to restore U.S. leadership on global issues and to revive multilateralism, which was undermined by his predecessor Donald Trump. One of his first actions since taking office was his decision to cease the previous administration's process of withdrawing from the WHO.