Greece, France and Italy supported President Biden’s initiative to waive patents for the Covid-19 vaccine during an EU Summit held Friday and Saturday in Portugal.
Reuters reports that Greece backed the waiver idea, as did Italy, which was in favor of time-limited and geographically targeted measures.
“I completely favor this opening up of the intellectual property,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
However, like many pharmaceutical companies, Macron insisted that a waiver would not solve the problem of access to vaccines. He said manufacturers in places like Africa are not now equipped to make COVID-19 vaccines, so donations of shots from wealthier countries should be given priority instead.
Greek government officials claim that the proposal for the use of patents as a global good was first made by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on April 6, 2020.
Mitsotakis then followed this up with his speech on May 4, 2020, at the Coronavirus Donor Conference, in the context of the international initiative Coronavirus Global Response, in which he stated:
“Discovering and proving the effectiveness of a vaccine will be one of the main challenges. But that alone is not enough. The vaccine must be produced in sufficient quantities in the shortest possible time. It must be available, at an affordable price, to the entire world population, starting with the most vulnerable. It must be distributed worldwide equally.
“I therefore endorse the call of other leaders who have taken part in this conference that the vaccine – whenever it is invented – should be declared a global public good. I think this is a principle we have to agree on and an important message that we all need to send today.”
Germany opposes patent waiver
But, Germany – home to BionTech which holds a patent on the highly effective mRNA vaccine together with Pfizer – argued strongly against the idea of waiving patent rights.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office spoke out against it, saying: “The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future.”
A Merkel spokeswoman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said Germany is focused instead on how to increase vaccine manufacturers’ production capacity.
Portugal, Estonia, Belgium and Ireland were also skeptical, Reuters reports.
Without the necessary consensus the EU remains torn over the issue of Covid-19 vaccine patent waiver.
The chairman of EU leaders Charles Michel said about patents waiver on Saturday: “we don’t think that in the short term that it is a magic bullet, but we are ready to engage on this topic as soon as a concrete proposal would be put on the table.”
Speaking to reporters before the second day of an EU summit in the Portuguese city of Porto, Michel said the way to fight the pandemic now was to quickly make more shots and lift export curbs on them in countries like the United States and Britain that make vaccines but do not sell them to others.
“In Europe we took the decision to make exports possible and we encourage all partners to facilitate the exports of doses,” Michel said after discussions with leaders of the 27-nation bloc on Friday evening.
Earlier, European Commission president von der Leyen said the bloc would discuss “any proposal that would tackle the crisis in an effective and pragmatic way”.
Biden opens debate on patent waiver
Debate around the issue erupted anew on Wednesday when US President Joe Biden supported the idea, provided it was done through the World Trade Organization.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” U.S. trade representative Katherine Tai said in a statement.
“The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”