People around the world facing the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic have reason to feel more hopeful today.
The Biden administration has announced support for India and South Africa’s proposal to waive intellectual property rules on Covid-19 vaccines “until widespread vaccination is in place globally. “These extraordinary times and circumstances ... call for extraordinary measures,” said US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, pledging the US would support the waiver for Covid-19 vaccines in discussions at the World Trade Organization.
Until today, the US had been one of a handful of largely wealthy countries opposing the waiver. But pressure on the Biden Administration to change course has been building for months.
Over the course of seven months, over 100 governments; hundreds of lawmakers from the US, Europe, and elsewhere; Nobel laureates and former world leaders; the head of the World Health Organization; faith leaders; the People’s Vaccine Alliance, and countless civil society organizations and unions, have called on governments to support the waiver. If adopted, the waiver would enable the sharing of intellectual property to help boost the availability and affordability of vaccines and other medical products for all.
The Biden Administration’s promise to “actively participate” in negotiations on the waiver is worth celebrating. It could be a breakthrough for human rights; advocates and organizations around the world have worked hard for this.
But there’s much work ahead. Ambassador Tai’s statement suggests the US government may only support the waiver for vaccines, though the proposal at the WTO covers a broader range of products, including Covid-19 tests and treatment. The recent surge in infections and deaths in India shows that until widespread vaccination is in place everywhere, tests and treatments will be needed to save lives. The Biden administration should ensure the waiver proposal covers the full spectrum of products needed to protect peoples’ rights to life and health.
The Biden administration put itself on the right side of history today. Now we wait to see if the other opposing governments, like the UK, Japan, Australia, and the EU, will too.