The announcement that the US would support the waiver of intellectual property protections on Covid-19 vaccines with the end goal of easing global distribution, was met with a predominantly positive response, though not without some criticism.
Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic called for “extraordinary measures” and that the US would actively participate in World Trade Organisation negotiations to make it happen.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organisation, tweeted his praise calling it a “monumental moment in the fight against Covid-19” and saying the commitment is “a powerful example of United States leadership to address global health challenges”.
Progressives in Congress were particularly happy, having lobbied the administration to support the move.
Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted: “I urged @POTUS to do everything he can to help expand global vaccine access, and I’m glad his administration agreed to support the WTO TRIPS waiver to help countries expand manufacturing of treatments and vaccines.”
She added: “This is a humanitarian crisis and it impacts all of us.”
Senator Bernie Sanders applauded the “bold step” by the administration to speed up the production and availability of coronavirus vaccines.
“I also recognise the dedicated work done by activists around the world to put this issue on the global agenda. We are all in this together,” he said on Wednesday.
In the House, Representative Ayanna Pressley said she joined with colleagues in asking the Biden administration to support the waiver.
“Today, they heeded our calls. Thankful for the organisers who made this possible. Now we must ensure negotiations are swift and successful,” she tweeted.
Congressman Eric Swalwell said that “crushing a global pandemic of this magnitude requires global cooperation and solutions” and that he was pleased to see the lead the Biden administration was taking.
“With this waiver, we can share vaccine recipes, largely developed with taxpayer dollars, while assuring reasonable royalties to American manufacturers,” tweeted Representative Lloyd Doggett, chair of the House Ways and Means health subcommittee.
“The best way to end the deadly global vaccine shortage is to enable more manufacturers to make vaccines,” he added.
Activist and ALS patient Ady Barkan, who recently reminded the president of the promise he made in July 2020 to share the vaccine with the rest of the world, was pleased with the announcement.
“Good stuff. Let’s vaccinate the world,” he wrote. “This is great news.”
“Now the US must do everything possible to ensure the negotiations are swift and successful,” he added.
Greg Gonsalves, activist, epidemiologist, and associate professor at Yale School of Public Health, noted: “Now the hard work starts.”
He pointed out the “devil is in details” of the negotiations, saying that the drafting of the text must be transparent and open, before explaining that the waiver was always the beginning of the process
“We’re now at the starting line. We need tech transfer now, need [the US government] to use $16bn already appropriated to get global manufacturing (both intl and domestic) ramped up,” he tweeted. “All hands on deck. We do this together.”
Dr Gonsalves pointed out that Japan, the UK, Switzerland, Norway, France, Canada, and Germany still oppose the waiver, asking for a call to action to all of those countries.
The move by the administration is not without its critics.
On Tuesday, Republican representatives Jim Jordan and Darrell Issa led a group from the House subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet, writing to Ambassador Tai saying the administration should oppose the waiver.
They wrote that respect for IP rights has been a cornerstone of trade policy for decades and should not be set aside lightly, saying that the move would be “gifting away our technological leadership and competitive advantage”.
“Although some flexibility may be warranted in emergency situations, the waiver of TRIPS IP protections requested by India, South Africa, and other countries would do little to improve public health during this critical period in the Covid-19 pandemic,” they argue.
“The scope of the requested waiver is overbroad and unjustified in light of the economic harm it would cause and the negligible benefits it would provide.”