The decision of the United States to support the temporary suspension of the intellectual property rights of the patents of the vaccines against the covid-19 , although Washington prohibits the export of antidotes against the covid-19 produced in its territory, did not take totally by surprise to the European Commission.
They received a courtesy call from the Biden Administration to explain their intentions and President Ursula von der Leyen was forced shortly after to commit to launching a debate that has overshadowed the meeting of EU heads of state and government in Porto, with reason for the European social summit.
Until now, Brussels has taken a position against lifting patent protection because it considers that the World Trade Organization already offers enough flexibility for pharmaceutical companies to share knowledge, through voluntary licensing agreements for technology transfer, a tool already provided for in the agreement that regulates the intellectual property rights of the WTO (Trips) without actually suspending the intellectual property whose negotiation could take years and would not solve the problem in the short term. A position that, despite Washington’s turn, has not changed.
The geostrategic cold war of vaccines.
“At the moment there is no evidence on the table that intellectual property protection is a problem and creates a bottleneck.
They have not given us a single example in which capacity (for vaccine production) has been restricted. for intellectual property “, say sources from the Community Executive who hope before entering into negotiations that the United States will explain the substance of its proposal to clarify whether or not it will help increase the availability of vaccines, especially in developing countries that do not have or facilities or the necessary technology.
Increase production capacity
The important thing, they understand in Brussels, is to increase the manufacturing capacity and for this it is necessary “transfer of knowledge and ‘know-how’ on how to develop vaccines” because “they are complex biological products, much more than chemical products”.
“Whether or not intellectual property is suspended, the problem goes further,” the same sources insist in relation to the debate launched by India and South Africa last October at the WTO. Hence its commitment to favor another strategy based on cooperation with pharmaceutical companies and voluntary transfers.
“The way in Geneva should be how to increase production capacity, not how to force technology transfer. That will not lead us to the objective that should be to act as quickly as possible to achieve more vaccines,” they highlight in the Community Executive.
The discussion arrives this Friday for the first time at the table of the EU Heads of State and Government, who will try to bring together positions during the summit held this Friday and Saturday in Porto.
Spain asks for ambition
Countries like Germany, the headquarters of the BioNTech company in whose hands is one of the patents for the novel messenger RNA-based vaccine, have received the idea with absolute coldness.
Others such as France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands or Spain have been willing to open the door to the suspension of intellectual property rights but admit that in the short term we must focus on strengthening production capacity.
“We welcome Biden’s proposal to suspend patents. We believe that it is on the right track but it is insufficient. It has to be much more ambitious. We have to share knowledge, strengthen manufacturing capacity and accelerate the distribution of the vaccine. to the countries that need it, “claimed President Pedro Sánchez upon his arrival at the summit.
Precisely, in a joint letter sent by Sánchez, the French president, Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of Belgium, Sweden and Denmark , to the presidents of the Council, the Portuguese presidency and the Commission, these five leaders urge to approve a European mechanism to share vaccines because “if the EU does not take a step forward, others will fill the void and use vaccines as a geopolitical tool,” they say in the letter that curiously does not mention the release of patents.
“We have to preserve research and innovation but solidarity is needed,” Macron recalled that it has affected the policy of the United Kingdom to block ingredients and the United States of not exporting vaccines.