The Joe Biden administration's decision to support a proposal launched by India and South Africa to temporarily waive some trade-related aspects of international intellectual property (IP) law during the pandemic, has brought hope to poorer nations which have been battered by the ongoing crisis.
India had been hectically lobbying to win the support of the US, which was among other several developed nations that had not backed the proposal that aims at facilitating the swift inoculation of population around the globe against the coronavirus.
On Wednesday, US Trade representative Katherine Tai, while announcing the policy decision to lend support to the proposal, said "this is a global health crisis and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures."
"The Biden administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines," Tai said.
These extraordinary times and circumstances of call for extraordinary measures.— Ambassador Katherine Tai (@AmbassadorTai) May 5, 2021
The US supports the waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and we’ll actively participate in @WTO negotiations to make that happen. pic.twitter.com/96ERlboZS8
India's ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu, responding to the development said, "We will continue to work with all stakeholders in the US to collectively fight the global pandemic including through equitable distribution of affordable vaccines for global public health at this critical juncture."
The US announcement has won appreciation in India as analysts say it will help meet the global requirement of mass vaccination.
"During the Doha Agreement of 2003 it was decided that the new IP rights regime that was adopted in 1995 as part of WTO compulsory licensing could be resorted to as long as there was a public health emergency. This was used in the case of India supplying HIV drugs to Africa. In the US itself compulsory licencing was used for drugs to treat Anthrax which spread post 9/11 in the US," Professor Manoj Pant, a professor of Economics and Director at the prestigious Indian Institute of Foreign Trade in New Delhi told Sputnik.
"Basically, what the governments want to do is to ramp up vaccine production either through the companies that are already making vaccines or allowing other companies to come up with complementary vaccines. US approval to support India's move means that US has finally realised that the Covid-19 situation is much worse. The only solution to countering the pandemic is vaccination, and there are not enough vaccines to go around the world," Professor Pant underlined.
The Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry Piyush Goyal had said in a WTO address on 14 April that "waiver is not intended to take away protection given to pharma companies, it focuses only on Covid-19 vaccines, associated medicines and cures."
India and some other less developed countries have been making efforts to inoculate more people at faster pace against the backdrop of raging COVID-19 cases in these countries. It is estimated that large populations in developed countries are likely to be immunised by mid-2022, but due to a massive shortage of vaccines, mass immunisation will take until 2024 in the poorer economies.
Data suggests that over half of the 12.5 billion vaccine doses the patent-holding pharma companies are planning to produce this year have already been booked by countries whose total population amounts to barely 13% of the world total.
Indian minister Goyal had said that an inequitable vaccination programme could prolong the pandemic for many years through cycles of mutation and might cost the global economy trillions of dollars as lost output and fiscal and monetary stimulus.
The proposal to waive IP and patent rights regarding Covid vaccines was floated by India and South Africa in October 2020; the move was opposed by some other WTO members like the US, the EU, Japan, Canada and Australia among others.