Friday 7 May 2021 11:53 am

Germany hits back at US patent waiver proposal for Covid-19 vaccines

Germany has rejected the Covid-19 vaccine patent proposal today, urging that production capacity is key to boosting vaccine output.

The country’s health minister said the primary challenge to increasing production volumes of vaccines is quickly and effectively transferring technology.

“The main issue is not patent protection but production capacity,” Jens Spahn, said at a news conference today.

“I would be delighted if the United States shows the same willingness to export vaccines that we in Germany do,” Spahn added.

The US’s patent proposal seeks to waiver patent protections that vaccines would typically receive, in hopes that manufacturing would pick up speed if restrictions on who can make what was eased.

In normal times, patents protect profits of the multinational companies that make drugs and vaccines, making it illegal for rivals to turn out copycat versions for up to 20 years.

Amid a roaring pandemic that has emphasised worldwide inoculation, some say there is a cause for ditching the traditional patented pathway.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” the US’s trade representative, Katherine Tai, said.

UK

However, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry hit back at the idea yesterday, saying it is ‘not the solution’ to unequal supplies of the jabs.

“In the short term, it will hinder vaccine scale-up and in the long term, significantly impact global investment into new vaccines and medicines,” the association said in a statement.

“Globally we must now focus on sharing excess doses of vaccines, maintaining the free movement of raw materials and properly funding COVAX – all of which the UK government has committed to doing.”

Germany

In their first major rift, the US and Germany have clashed on patent waiver commitments.

Berlin argued that a waiver would not increase production but instead would hinder future private-sector research.

“The US suggestion for the lifting of patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines has significant implications for vaccine production as a whole,” a German government spokeswoman said yesterday.

“The limiting factors in the production of vaccines are the production capacities and the high-quality standards and not patents,” she added, arguing that the companies were already working with partners to boost manufacturing capacity.

“The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future.”

European Commission

The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has said the bloc was open to debate on the matter.

With the EU’s vaccination effort accelerating and 30 Europeans being vaccinated each second while exporting more than 200m doses, Von der Leyen said Europe was “also ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner”.

“That’s why we are ready to discuss how the US proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective.”

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