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WORLD | 08-05-2021 01:14

Global push to waive Covid vaccine patents runs into opposition

EU, pharma firms sceptical of push to lift Covid vaccine patents, despite support from US President Joe Biden, WHO; Foreign Ministry reiterates Argentina's support for initiative.

The European Union voiced scepticism Friday over the United States' sudden push to waive Covid vaccine patents to boost supply to poorer countries, while defending its own record as the world's biggest exporter of doses.

An intellectual property waiver "will not solve the problems, will not bring a single dose of vaccine in the short- and medium-term," European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told a press conference at an EU summit in Portugal.

That position was echoed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who stressed that the bigger problem was US and British export restrictions on vaccines and their raw materials.

"The Anglo-Saxons block many of these ingredients and vaccines," he told reporters. "Today 100 percent of the vaccines produced in the United States are for the American market."

That contrasts with the EU's export so far of more than 200 million vaccine doses, which von der Leyen claimed shows Europe is "the pharmacy of the world."

Their remarks reflect European consternation at the US about-face this week to support the suspension of vaccine patents, as pushed for by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and countries such as India and South Africa.

Most EU leaders said they were not opposed to a debate on the idea, although German Chancellor Angela Merkel has come out firmly against it, with her government stressing that intellectual property (IP) protection is a source of innovation.

EU officials briefing journalists in Brussels on the issue said the hoarding of vaccine inputs by other countries was a larger obstacle to increasing global vaccine production than intellectual property protection.

But, mindful of the risk of the EU being portrayed as a villain against the apparent generosity of the US stance, they stressed openness to Washington's announcement.

"I believe now the US should come forward and explain exactly the substance of their proposal," one EU official said. "We have not seen anything but a very general statement."

Another official said that lifting patents, by itself, "will not fix things...  it does not mean that you have access to technology or to knowhow." The official likened it to being handed a recipe to cook a very complex dish – "it doesn't mean that I will be able to actually produce the same effect".

 

Argentina's position

Argentina’s Foreign Ministry this week ratified its stance in favour of freeing vaccines against Covid-19 from patents, a drive initiated by South Africa and India and finding increasing resonance around the world.

Argentina’s Geneva delegation to the WHO, headed by Ambassador Federico Villegas Beltrán, considered that the vaccines should be "global public assets … with equal access" on the understanding that "exceptional situations require exceptional solutions."

In his presentation, Villegas Beltrán criticised "the profound inequality which has characterised the distribution of the vaccines at global level, carrying the health risk of the virus becoming endemic and generating more aggressive and contagious variants."

Even lifting the patent would not solve all the problems since many countries lack productive capacity on the necessary scale. Argentina aspires to become a vaccine producer via its technological transfer agreement with Russia to manufacture its Sputnik V at the Richmond lab.

Meanwhile, an Aerolíneas Argentinas flight will be heading out to Moscow early today to pick up more doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, it was confirmed yesterday, and is scheduled to arrive tomorrow evening.

"No doors will be closed when it comes to seeking vaccines," said President Alberto Fernández.

The last Sputnik V shipment to arrive here was 765,545 doses on April 30.

Up to yesterday morning 11,324,974 vaccines had been distributed with 7,555,386 people inoculated with a single dose and 1,265,305 with both.

Argentina's Health Ministry registered 611 new fatalities and 22,552 confirmed cases of Covid-19 on Friday, as the second wave continues in Argentina. 

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, a total of 3,118,134 infections and 66,872 deaths have now been recorded. 

Health Ministry data showed that bed occupancy in intensive care units (ICUs) had risen to 68.7 percent nationwide and 76.5 percent in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area. 

Argentina recorded its highest daily death toll of the pandemic to date on Wednesday, registering 633 fatalities in 24 hours.

 

– TIMES

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