Lifting of patents on vaccines against Covid-19: the European counter-offensive

Europeans did not appreciate when Joe Biden declared himself, on May 5, in favor of the lifting of patents on vaccines against Covid-19. Not only did the President of the United States not warn them of his initiative, but in doing so he positioned himself as a champion of global solidarity in the war against the pandemic.

After reacting hot – some member states like Germany, where BioNTech has developed one of the most widely used vaccines today, reaffirmed their opposition to the US proposal, while others said they were open to the discussion – the time has come for a more structured response.

On Wednesday 19 May, the European Commission presented the main lines of a counter-proposal which it will detail after having discussed it with the Twenty-Seven. And that it then intends to submit to the World Trade Organization (WTO). “We will work together to find pragmatic and effective solutions”, at tweeted Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday after receiving in Brussels Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the new director general of the multilateral organization.

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South Africa and India, which developed a joint proposal in the fall of 2020 to facilitate access to vaccines for the most deprived countries – they are campaigning for a very broad lifting of intellectual property -, are working to their part to amend it and should deliver their new copy in the coming days.

As for the United States, their contribution is also awaited. The subject will be on the agenda of the WTO General Council, scheduled for July.

Concrete commitments are expected

For Brussels, the priority is to remove obstacles to trade in vaccines, the many components used in their manufacture and drugs that can help fight the pandemic. “Vaccine producing countries should commit to exporting a fair share of their production”, declared, before the European Parliament on Wednesday, Valdis Dombrovskis, the Vice-President of the Commission, who expects from them, as from that of the laboratories, concrete commitments.

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This injunction is aimed primarily at the United States and the United Kingdom, which have so far kept for their own consumption almost all of the vaccines produced on their soil. “We expect consistency in Washington’s speech”, comments the Elysee, where it also defends the use of vaccine donations to the countries most in need.

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