Thursday, May 6, 2021 | 06:25 pm

US Evaluating Proposals As India Calls for Waiver of Patents for COVID Vaccines

US Evaluating Proposals As India Calls for Waiver of Patents for COVID Vaccines

Washington is working with WTO members to ensure “equitable” access to Covid-19 vaccines, a US trade official said on Friday but stopped short of signaling a commitment to waiving patent protections.

Speaking as the WTO was holding another meeting in Geneva to seek waivers to intellectual property rights that would allow poor countries faster access to the coronavirus jabs, the US Trade Representative (USTR) said in a report that it is “evaluating the efficacy of proposals” in the multilateral bodies.

The push to ease up patent protections is being led by South Africa and India. The latter country is being ravaged by a surge in infections, with another 385,000 new cases reported over the past 24 hours — a global record — and almost 3,500 deaths, according to official data.

But the United States has yet to agree, though a senior USTR official told reporters, “The top priority of the United States is saving lives and ending the pandemic”.

“We are working with our global partners to explore pragmatic and effective steps to surge production and equitable distribution of vaccines,” the official said.

USTR Katherine Tai has met in recent weeks with executives from vaccine manufacturers Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca as well as a tech entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Gates to discuss the issue.

Newly installed WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has made the vaccine issue a top priority and brought together stakeholders to thrash out a solution, including her proposal for a temporary waiver.

But the powerful US Chamber of Commerce on Friday pushed back against “the mistaken belief that IP rights can be a barrier to access for COVID-19 vaccines”.