As the latest wave of India's COVID-19 outbreak metastasizes into a full-blown crisis, India and other developing economies are seizing the opportunity to push back against the Bill Gates-backed status quo that prioritizes the intellectual property rights of big pharma over access to plentiful and cheap vaccines in the developing world.
Gates has continued to insist that the current approach is the best option for the developing world. But increasingly, it seems the governments of India, South Africa, Nigeria and other emerging powers disagree. And as a showdown looms at the WTO, Washington is being pressed to confront the obvious hypocrisy in backing Gates over the "open vaccine" movement.
As more lawmakers speak out on the issue, support has grown along Biden's left flank to push the president and his top trade rep to back a proposal at the WTO to issue a waiver on IP restrictions that would effectively allow countries to manufacture jabs independently, instead of being forced to purchase them from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and their competitors on the open market.
Of course, Biden can't move on this issue without the implicit support of big pharma, and in an attempt to try and curry support, Biden's trade representative Katharine Tai, who has seemingly made the "open vaccine" issue a pet project, met with top executives from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and others to discuss the possibility of supporting an IP waiver.
The talks come as members of the WTO are due to discuss a proposal by India and South Africa to waive certain provisions of the organization's Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights during an upcoming meeting on April 30. So far, the US has blocked the resolution. But a growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers, civil society groups, and 60 former heads of state and 100 Nobel Prize winners have urged Biden to reconsider and instead back the waiver. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Monday said she had no updates on the issue.
Beyond talk about "increasing vaccine production", it's not exactly clear what Tai and her fellow executives discussed (though the waiver was reportedly part of the talks), Reuters reminds us that, earlier this month, Tai told a WTO meeting the gaping divide between developed and developing countries' access to medicines was "completely unacceptable" and that the industry needed to make sacrifices in times of crisis.
On Tuesday, Seattle's City Council passed a resolution put forward by the mayor's office urging Biden to lift the patent restrictions.
The resolution from my office, urging Biden to lift COVID-19 patent restrictions, passed 7-1 in Seattle City Council.— Kshama Sawant (@cmkshama) April 26, 2021
Our movement rejects the status quo of billionaire-profit-driven vaccine apartheid & vaccine nationalism. We demand vaccine internationalism, a People’s Vaccine!
Others on social media pointed to the administration's obvious hypocrisy on the issue. Biden reportedly spoke with PM Narendra Modi directly this week and offered US assistance in helping battle the country's COVID-19 crisis, however, as one social media user pointed out, the US keeps blocking India's request for waiving Intellectual Property Rights related to COVID-19 drugs and vaccine raw materials, in the WTO.
Biden has announced sending help to India, to fight COVID-19.— Kingshuk Mazumder (@KingshukMazum15) April 27, 2021
However, US keeps blocking India's request for waiving Intellectual Property Rights related to COVID-19 drugs and vaccine raw materials, in the WTO. Please explain why.
Behind the scences and with the blessing of Gates, the world's de facto COVID-19 vaccine czar, the industry has escalated its lobbying efforts in Washington, warning that giving up the rights to such valuable US intellectual property would inevitably aid America's foes, especially China and Russia.
The question now is: how many lives is that worth, with emerging economies expected to wait years to receive access to abundant vaccines, while unused jabs pile up in the US.