Germany pushes back against COVID-19 patent waiver proposal

Germany has sought to pour cold water on a proposal by the United States to ease patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines, saying it would have “significant implications” for vaccine production across the board.

On Wednesday US President Joe Biden backed plans by the World Trade Organization to temporarily lift patent protections to speed up production.

It came after more than six months of campaigning by India and South Africa, since joined by about 60 other countries, for a waiver they say would improve access to vaccines in some of the world’s poorest countries.

By contrast, on Friday, German government deputy spokesman Ulrike Demmer told journalists that “the limiting factor in vaccine production is production capacity and high quality standards, not patents”.

She added: “The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain.”

Germany has so far committed some €1 billion to the COVAX facility, a global initiative overseen by the World Health Organization that seeks to ensure equitable access to vaccines by distributing donated doses to poorer and developing nations.

Demmer added that despite its opposition to the proposed waiver, Germany “stands behind the goal of a worldwide supply of COVID-19 vaccines.”

Obstacles to an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

The proposal to lift patent protections faces a multitude of hurdles. Chief among them is resistance from the pharmaceutical industry, which has said such a move would stifle future innovation of the kind that made these vaccines possible.

Around 100 of the World Trade Organization’s 164 member states are thought to be in favour of a waiver on vaccine patent protections.

But if just one member country in the World Trade Organization opposes a waiver when it is put to a vote, the proposal will fail.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told a virtual conference on Friday that in her view, a waiver could help expand fair access to vaccines but might not be the most “critical issue”.

She added that the body wants to find “a pragmatic solution that assures access to developing countries to deal with vaccine inequity, whilst at the same time making sure we don’t disincentivise research and innovation.”

The US had previously opposed the idea but reversed course on Wednesday, in a decision that was welcomed by activists and humanitarian institutions. The US is so far the only developed country with large-scale domestic vaccine manufacturing to publicly support the idea.


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