The World Health Organisation (WHO) has welcomed the decision of Biden administration to back intellectual property waivers for coronavirus vaccines, calling it “a monumental moment” in the fight against the virus.

WHO Executive Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commended the Biden administration’s support for temporarily waiving intellectual property rights as an example of “leadership to address global health challenges”.

“Now let’s all move together swiftly, in solidarity, building on the ingenuity & commitment of scientists who produced life-saving #COVID19 vaccines,” Tedros tweeted.

On Wednesday, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said that while intellectual property rights for businesses are important, the US “supports the waiver of those protections” for COVID-19 vaccine in order to end the pandemic.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” she said in a statement.

US President Joe Biden had been under increased pressure to back a WTO proposal to waive the patents, a move that would allow more countries to manufacture much-needed Covid-19 jabs, in the face of growing calls to do more to support global vaccine equity and share the country’s vaccine supply with other hard-hit nations.

In her statement, Tai said Washington would engage in negotiations with the WTO on the waivers. “Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved,” she said.

Dozens of countries, as well as human rights groups, former world leaders and public health experts, have ramped up their calls for the patent waiver in recent weeks amid a coronavirus surge in several countries.

Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), one of the groups calling for the waiver, applauded what it said was a “bold” decision during a time of “unprecedented global need”, and said the waiver should be broadly applied.

In October of last year, South Africa and India submitted a request to the WTO to waive intellectual property rights on vaccines and other medical technologies needed to combat the coronavirus. More than 100 other countries have since supported that call.


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