US support for waiving IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines: “Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures”

A statement released 5 May 2021, from the United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai, announced the Biden-Harris Administration’s support for waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.

The statement reads:

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines. We will actively participate in text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) needed to make that happen. Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.

“The Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible. As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the Administration will continue to ramp up its efforts – working with the private sector and all possible partners – to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution. It will also work to increase the raw materials needed to produce those vaccines.”

Our response

“This decision is historic as the US administration has been opposed to this specific COVID-19 waiver and has historically always pushed for stricter intellectual property (IP) protections – regardless of impact on public health. We hope the US will resist big pharma’s attempts to dilute this decision and insist that corporations share know-how and ensure technology transfer to achieve the expanded vaccine manufacturing and distribution that the statement refers to,” says Othoman Mellouk, ITPC’s Lead on IP and Access to Medicines.

Tracy Swan is a US activist and ITPC/MMA consultant: “For so long, my country has been on the wrong side of access to medicines issues and policies – for the rest of the world, as well as itself. Fighting for the right to survive has paid off. It is wonderful to see the US using its power to save lives instead of sanctioning profiteering. Now it’s time for action!”

“The US must now use their lobbying power to convince their usual allies to shift their position, as there are still several developed nations who are opposed to the waiver and decisions at WTO are taken by consensus,” says Mellouk.

“The WTO Director General now has a critical responsibility in this historic moment to move discussions forward faster and bring back trust in the organization. We can’t afford additional months of discussions and negotiations,” concludes Mellouk.


Following yesterday’s US announcement, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: ”The EU is also ready to discuss any proposals that addresses the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner”.

Covid-19 Coronavirus Vaccine vials in a row macro close up