The Biden administration has backed the waiving of intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines, supporting a proposal from the World Trade Organization to improve worldwide vaccinations against the deadly virus.
Stripping IP protections would help other countries manufacture and distribute their own vaccines, despite privately held patents for the vaccines.
"This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," United States 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."
Upon news of the Biden administration’s actions, stock prices of major pharmaceutical companies fell, including COVID-19 vaccine makers Pfizer, Moderna, BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson.
The news comes as more than half of American adults have been at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the CDC. President Biden has also pledged to vaccinate 70% of U.S. adults by July 4.
“In the next phase of the vaccination campaign, the Administration will make getting vaccinated more accessible than ever before, continuing to increase people’s confidence in the vaccines and ensuring that everyone is reached in the response,” the White House said May 4.
Removing IP protections will help increase accessibility to vaccines by ensuring more countries can manufacture them. According to Tai, the U.S. will work with the World Trade Organization in negotiating the removal of those protections. WTO’s proposal stems from a huge rise in COVID-19 cases in some parts of the world, including India, which is reporting more than 300,000 new cases daily.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), a pharmaceutical industry trade group, opposed the Biden administration’s actions. Drug manufacturers are set to rake in billions in COVID-19 vaccine sales.
“In the midst of a deadly pandemic, the Biden Administration has taken an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety,” PhRMA President and CEO Stephen J. Ubl said in a statement. “This decision will sow confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already strained supply chains and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines.”