By Eric Sylvers
European Union leaders pushed back against President Biden's call to wave intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines, saying exporting more shots would be a faster way to help poor countries struggling to contain the virus.
The EU is ready to discuss the U.S. stance, which the Biden administration voiced earlier this week, when there is a concrete proposal, European Council President Charles Michel said at a summit in Portugal on Saturday.
"We don't think in the short term that it's the magic bullet," Mr. Michel said of the proposal to lift patent protections, which could enable companies in developing countries and others to manufacture their own versions of Covid-19 vaccines.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also rejected the idea of waiving Covid vaccine patents. She said a waiver wouldn't make more vaccine doses available and countries should protect "the power of innovation" and patent protections. Germany is home to BioNTech SE, which co-developed a vaccine with Pfizer Inc., and CureVac NV, which is running clinical trials for a Covid vaccine.
The Biden administration's embrace of the waiver sent the EU scrambling to explain its plans to help poor countries when the U.S. and Europe are quickly vaccinating their populations. The more the virus spreads, the more likely it is to mutate into a vaccine-resistant strain.
To help countries like India facing a surge in infections and deaths, richer countries should concentrate on increasing vaccine production around the world in facilities already making the vaccine, EU leaders said. Rich countries should also export more vaccine doses, Ms. Merkel and other EU leaders said.
The EU has exported more than 200 million vaccine doses, the same amount that has have been delivered to Europeans, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this week. The U.S. government has used the Defense Production Act to force private companies to first honor contracts with the government before they meet orders from other companies or countries. The U.S. has stockpiled millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine even though the shot isn't approved for use in the country. On April 26, the Biden administration said it would share as many as 60 million AstraZeneca doses with the rest of the world.
Late last year, India and South Africa proposed waving patents for Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. More than 100 countries have supported the proposal, with the U.S. joining the chorus this week.
Even with the U.S. support, challenges remain before the patent wavier could significantly increase vaccine production. It might take several months to define the details of any plan, with potential sticking points including how drugmakers would transfer technical know-how to manufacturers without vaccine expertise. Six months could pass before plants produce their first doses of a vaccine, according to some public health experts.
Production could also be hampered by the need to fund new machinery and adapt the production process, according to some Covid vaccine manufacturers that have opposed the waiver idea.
Write to Eric Sylvers at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires