The European Union said Thursday it is ready to consider waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines after President Biden threw his support behind the idea.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the organization is open to ideas that wrangle the pandemic in an “effective and pragmatic manner.”
“That is why we are ready to discuss how the U.S. proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective,” she said during a speech in Italy.
Europe has been wary of proposals before the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property (IP) rights on vaccines, though Mr. Biden’s position might soften opposition elsewhere.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the administration will work with the WTO, which is meeting this week, to find a way forward, though cautioned the process will take time.
Advocates of the waiver say poorer nations need trade secrets from drugmakers to make generic versions of effective vaccines that are helping the U.S. and other rich countries.
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Opponents of the waiver say it will be counterproductive. Vaccine-sharing programs exist, and it will take time for other places to build the operations needed to put vaccine recipes to use.
Congressional Republicans say the main beneficiaries will be rivals such as Russia and China because they have the ability to leverage knowledge from the West. They also said drugmakers will be reluctant to step forward and offer cures in a future pandemic if their IP is given away.