The African Union’s health watchdog on Thursday, 6th May, praised the United States for supporting a waiver on patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines as a “remarkable expression of leadership”.
“History will remember the move taken by the US Government as doing the right thing at the right time to fight a terrible challenge, which is unprecedented in our contemporary history,” Dr John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told the media.
As poor countries struggle to get enough vaccine doses, Washington’s Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, said on Wednesday, 5th May, the US “supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines”.
“The extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” she said in a statement.
Nkengasong praised the move as “a remarkable expression of leadership and a very important development.
“This development will continue to build a momentum necessary to enable us to achieve this goal. This is a step in the right direction,” he said.
The director of the Gavi Vaccine Alliance, Thabani Maphosa, said US support for the waiver “opens up the space to increase production capacity.”
The backers of the waiver say that easing patent restrictions will spur the production of low-cost generic vaccines, helping poor countries that are struggling to immunise their people.
Opponents argue, however, that the move will damage intellectual property rights and erode the profit incentive, ultimately affecting pharmaceutical research and development.
The regional director for Africa at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Matshidiso Moeti, lauded the vaccine waiver as a “game-changer” for the continent.
“We commend the leadership shown by South Africa, India and the United States, and urge others to back them,” Moeti told reporters at a weekly WHO Africa briefing.
India and South Africa put forward a proposal in October at the World Trade Organization that would let WTO members waive certain intellectual property rights and other technologies for the duration of the pandemic.