Vials containing the Janssen Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.
Johnson & Johnson via Reuters
The White House is considering suspending intellectual property protection for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments due to pressure from developing countries and subsequent support from progressive lawmakers, according to three sources familiar with the matter.
A temporary removal of intellectual property protection would apply to any medical technology used to treat or prevent Covid-19. South Africa and India have formally asked the World Trade Organization to waive protection until the pandemic is over, but the issue has been brought in with no resolution.
The White House convened a deputy policymaker meeting on March 22, a senior administration official said, but they did not make a final decision.
The White House review comes in response to a letter sent by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in late March, urging the government to investigate the issue after several Democratic colleagues – including Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut and Jan Schakowsky from Illinois. pointed it out to her. The letter was not published. However, a senior adviser said Pelosi supports the position of its members in favor of such waiver, even temporarily.
“The view is ‘we’re not safe until the world is safe,'” one of the sources said of support for progressives on Capitol Hill.
The move would allow other countries to replicate existing vaccines. The USA has so far approved three vaccine shots: one from the American company Pfizer and BioNTech in Germany, one from the US company Moderna and one from the American company Johnson & Johnson.
Concerns have grown over the US and a handful of other wealthy countries who have rights to a disproportionate share of the world’s vaccine supply while other nations struggle to vaccinate their populations.
The Hill initially reported support for the move from progressive lawmakers.
The US Trade Representative’s office, which is expected to deliver a final verdict to the World Trade Organization, said saving lives and ending the pandemic remained “America’s top priority”.
“As part of the rebuilding of our alliances, we are examining all possibilities to coordinate with our global partners and assess the effectiveness of this specific proposal based on its real potential to save lives,” USTR spokesman Adam Hodge told CNBC.
The pharmaceutical industry has decided against the waiver of patent protection. It fears that this will undermine innovation to fight future diseases.
CNBC contacted Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson for comment.
Clete Willems, former deputy director of the National Economic Council, said lifting the protection would set a dangerous precedent for technology sharing.
“The government must stay away from this trap, which would undermine decades of US policy against forced technology transfers to countries like China and not directly increase vaccine distribution,” Willems, now a partner at Akin Gump, told CNBC. “The model they are pursuing with their quad partners is more promising.”
Ahead of a March 12 meeting, the Quad – a group from the United States, India, Japan and Australia looking to counter China’s influence – announced a complex financing deal to improve vaccine manufacturing in the Indo-Pacific. where there has been a shortage. The group aims to deliver up to 1 billion vaccines by 2022.
Almost 19% of American adults and about 15% of the total US population are fully vaccinated. according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.