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Huge win: Biden backs vaccine patent waiver

Administration’s support could help vaccinate the world, end humanitarian crisis



(May 7, 2021) — On Wednesday afternoon, the Biden administration announced it would support a temporary waiver of patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization. This is a huge win for the Global South countries that would otherwise not be vaccinated until 2024 or beyond.

In addition, this is a huge win for Washington state, where the advocacy of countless organizations and individuals resulted in hundreds of emails and calls sent to members of Congress and constituent office visits in various districts. Ultimately Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash., 7th) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash., 9th) expressed support for waiving the vaccine IP. For months, the Biden administration has been under pressure from labor unions and public health advocates to support the waiver.

In the last two weeks, the administration had come under increasing pressure when a letter with 10 Senate signers, a letter with 110 House signers, and a letter from 170-plus Nobel Laureates and former heads of state called on President Biden to back the temporary waiver of the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement, known as TRIPS.

The Biden administration’s decision proved to be pivotal in getting other countries to back the waiver. Shortly after the announcement, New Zealand came out in favor and the European Union signaled openness to the negotiations.

Once negotiated, the waiver has the potential to scale up vaccine production globally by allowing countries to manufacture generic vaccines for their populations. Aside from getting the global economy moving again after a year of stagnation, for countries like India where hundreds are dying each day, the TRIPS waiver means putting a much faster stop to the humanitarian crisis unfolding.

Going forward, it is critical that activists have President Biden’s back and express support for him as he takes on the pharmaceutical monopolies. Additionally, we must push to be sure the TRIPS waiver is as comprehensive and efficient as necessary to vaccinate the world.

Hillary Haden is Executive Director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition.

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