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Vaccine patent shock as Biden demands China exclusion

THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION says it will veto a global plan to allow countries to ignore patents and make their own Covid-19 vaccines unless the Chinese are specifically excluded, Bloomberg reported.

The sudden move has jolted top health workers who were hoping that the long-promised patent waiver would enable them to make vaccines available to everyone, including in poor countries in Africa and Asia.

But the US says it will scupper the whole deal unless China is explicitly excluded from the waiver. In response, China said that it did not wish to be excluded from the pact, but would voluntarily agree not to take advantage of it.

Deputy US Trade Representative Maria Pagan told Bloomberg that China’s offer was not good enough. It must be excluded in print. “What we want is clarity,” Ms Pagan told the news organisation in a report published yesterday.

Health officials are concerned, because US opposition could kill the whole deal, which has been in preparation for two years. Discussions are going on in Geneva this month in the hopes of signing a final pact in June – but that is now looking uncertain. WTO deals are structured so that pacts are unanimous and any one of the 164 members can block the deal for any reason. 


Many commentators around the world have responded negatively. “Given a choice between prolonging the pandemic and the possibility that it might get easier to cure diseases in China, the US government chooses to side with death,” said Tobita Chow, Chicago-based director of Justice is Global. “This hurts the whole world but most of all the global south countries trapped in between the great powers.”

While the present administration’s excessively harsh attitude to China is well known, this new wrinkle is unexpected – particularly given Joe Biden’s pledge to waive patents on Covid vaccines. The problem is that veto-ing the waiver harms everyone. Joel Cawley, a Colorado-based author on strategic affairs, said: “Helping China deal with Covid is quite possibly the single best thing we could do for our economy.”

Charles Buchanan, a political commentator, said: “Covid is a global issue requiring a coordinated global response.”

But the US is arguing that China must be prevented in law from taking advantage of the waiver. “The second-largest economy in the world, which has Covid vaccines and mRNA technology, doesn’t need the waiver,” Ms Pagan told Bloomberg News.

Image at the top by Artem Podrez/ Pexels

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