The French president has sought to turn the tide on the Biden administration following his call for the waiver of vaccine patents, accusing “Anglo-Saxon” countries of hampering the global supply of life-saving jabs.
Emmanuel Macron said the intellectual property debate sparked by the United States was a parallel spectacle to existing obstacles to the export of vaccines and ingredients, and the need for voluntary dose-sharing programs with poorer countries.
At an EU summit in the Portuguese city of Porto, he specifically targeted the United States, noting that the country is reserving doses of homemade vaccines for home use.
“Today the Anglo-Saxons are blocking a lot of these ingredients and vaccines,” Macron said. “What’s the real problem right now? It’s not really an intellectual property issue. You can hand over intellectual property to labs that don’t know how to produce it. “
Also speaking in Porto, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said she was willing to participate in the discussion on intellectual property waivers, but added that other vaccine-producing regions were to follow the EU and allow much of their production to be exported.
The comments came two days after President Joe Biden’s senior trade advisor Katherine Tai said the United States would support a waiver of intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines. Such an initiative would allow pharmaceutical manufacturers to manufacture “copying” vaccines without fear of prosecution for infringement of intellectual property rights.
The Biden administration’s proposal deceived the EU and sparked a glacial response from major member states, including Germany, home to pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which, along with Pfizer, manufactures one of the main Covid-19 vaccines.
Macron said he was ready to discuss intellectual property issues, but that was not the critical issue that needed to be addressed, as he defended the EU’s record on the production and export of vaccines.
Other constraints, such as export bans and limited availability of raw materials, had a more decisive impact than patent protections on the world’s ability to increase vaccine production, argues the EU.
“We have not been given a single example where [production] capacity has been limited due to patent protection or other intellectual property rights, ”said a commission official.
Von der Leyen said if she was “open” to discussing a patent waiver, such a move would not result in a single dose of additional vaccine in the short to medium term. Those who have participated in the IP waiver debate should, like the EU, be prepared to export “much of what is produced in this region,” she said, in a clear challenge. in the USA.
The EU has exported around 200 million doses of the vaccine so far, a number similar to those delivered to its own citizens, von der Leyen said. In contrast, very few vaccines left the United States.
EU officials say Washington notified the EU of the patent in advance move shortly before it was made public on Wednesday, but there was no consultation or attempt to coordinate positions. “If you ask me what has to happen next, the first thing is for the United States to explain exactly what it means with the announcement they made – we haven’t seen anything other than a very general statement, “said an official.
Brussels is now trying to decide how to answer it and EU leaders are due to discuss the issue at a summit dinner in Porto on Friday evening.
“Whether there is a waiver or not, the problem goes way beyond that,” a commission official said earlier on Friday, citing issues such as the need to keep supply chains open – with mRNA vaccines based on 280 components from 19 countries.
Another problem, according to the official, was that accessing patents was not the same as acquiring the knowledge needed to make a vaccine. About 80 to 100 patents were involved in creating an mRNA vaccine, the official said, adding that even access to all of them “doesn’t give you the big picture of vaccine production. , for that you need the know-how and the technology “.
Brussels also argues that existing international intellectual property agreements already offer certain flexibilities for sharing vaccine intellectual property, including compulsory licensing possibilities.
In recent months, the EU has resisted a push led by India and South Africa in the World Trade Organization for a vaccine patent waiver. Brussels fears it will face international pressure to change its position in the WTO negotiations, currently scheduled for early June, although there is now a chance that a meeting could be organized this month, according to trade officials.
A senior official in the Biden administration said there is now a chance for the WTO to come together to come up with solutions that help save lives. “We will continue to intensify our efforts – in collaboration with the private sector and all possible partners – to expand the manufacture and distribution of vaccines throughout the world and to increase the raw materials required for the production of these vaccines.”