U.S. President Joe Biden has expressed support for a temporary waiver of intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines.
"President Biden, are you going to back a waiver of the WTO? Are you going to back that? Is the U.S. government?"
"Yes. I am going to talk about that later today. Yes."
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai in a statement on Wednesday said the Biden administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in order to end the global health crisis, it supports the waiver of such protections for vaccines.
She also stressed that the administration aims to provide safe and effective vaccines to as many people, as soon as possible.
Soon after the statement was released, the WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the U.S. support, hailing it as a "monumental moment" in the fight against the pandemic.
He tweeted on Wednesday that the support from U.S. is a powerful example of leadership to address the global health crisis.
On the other hand, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, whose members include major pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and AstraZeneca expressed disappointment, saying that a waiver is the wrong answer to a complex problem.
This comes amid India and South Africa calling on the World Trade Organization to waive patents for vaccines.
Despite U.S. support, one expert notes the negotiations to draw up a specific waiver plan could take some time.
"Stances differ between advanced countries and developing countries, and vaccine producers and vaccine recipient countries. Also, the government and private companies may not share the same stance. The chances are, it'll take quite a long time for all 164 WTO member countries to find common ground, let alone come up with a specific action plan."
He added patent waivers might expand the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines and benefit some countries in the long term, but the short-term impact would likely be minimal.
Kim Jae-hee, Arirang News.