In a surprising move, the Biden administration has said it will support a controversial proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines in a bid to increase global supplies of desperately needed doses. The proposal, which was introduced before the World Trade Organization last fall by South Africa and India, would cover patents, industrial designs, copyrights, and protection of trade secrets. Ultimately, a waiver would make it easier for countries that permit compulsory licensing to allow a manufacturer to export vaccines.
The proposal was made amid growing concern that low- and middle-income countries were being left out after wealthy nations reached deals with vaccine makers. Wealthy countries currently account for more than half of nearly 9 billion doses locked up in purchase agreements to date, according to the Duke Global Health Innovation Center. While some middle-income countries, such as Brazil and India, have vaccine development programs, low-income countries lack manufacturing and clinical testing capacity and are unable to participate in the deal-making process.