Rabat – WHO Chief Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has welcomed the US support for the lifting of vaccine patents to expand global vaccine access.
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday surprised many observers by standing strong in the face of heavy corporate pressure. Biden announced on Wednesday, May 5, that he would support a waiver on patents that would allow vaccine manufacturers around the world to produce the COVID-19 vaccine.
The decision came in the face of intense lobbying by some of the world’s most powerful pharmaceutical giants.
The pharmaceutical lobby had gathered a coalition of the politicians it pays through campaign contributions. The pharma sector spent more than $11 million in “campaign contributions” in 2020 in order to ensure top politicians prioritize their profits over other issues; a common practice in US politics.
Read also: COVAX: Still Large Inequities in Distribution of COVID-19 Vaccine
President Biden, whose long career gave him a reputation for being very responsive to corporate demands, surprised many by not caving to the demands of corporate-funded opposition to the patent waiver.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros described the move as a “historic decision for vaccine equity and prioritizing the well-being of all people everywhere at a critical time.”
It appears that the clear choice between profits and human well-being factored into Biden’s decision, breaking with a decades-old trend of corporate-influenced decision making in the US that has resulted in it having the world’s highest medical costs per capita.
Read also: India Gasps For Air as COVID-19 Cases Continue to Rise
Vaccine manufacturers saw their stocks fall by several percentage points on average after the news. While opponents of the waiver highlighted the “damage” being done to these multinational companies, others highlighted that stock markets recognize that these companies only make profits by restricting access to life-saving drugs.
“It’s almost as if Big Pharma relies on keeping lifesaving medicine inaccessible,” tweeted Wisconsin congressman Mark Pocan.
The US decision appears to have softened EU opposition to the vaccine patent waiver that the WHO has long called for. The EU is home to other large vaccine manufacturers who received billions in government funding to support vaccine research.
Read also: France Accuses China, Russia Of ‘Propaganda’ For Sharing Vaccines
EU Commission President, Ursula Von Leyen, tweeted that the EU is now “open to discuss any other effective and pragmatic solution.”
While not endorsing the waiver, Von Leyen’s statement is a departure from EU opposition and could indicate a growing consensus that the COVID-19 crisis warrants a departure from the practice of prioritizing corporate profits that has dominated decision making in the 21st century.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros described Biden’s vaccine decision as reflecting “the wisdom and moral leadership of the United States to work to end this pandemic.” Whether other countries will follow Biden’s example, remains to be seen. For the WHO, the moment for expanding global vaccine access is now.
“Let’s all move together swiftly, in solidarity, building on the ingenuity and commitment of scientists who produced life-saving COVID-19 vaccines,” Dr. Tedros stated.