The French President had been so far on the fence on the US President’s call to waive intellectual properties on Covid vaccines to help developing countries have more doses. Biden’s administration made the proposal last month urging European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to act swiftly.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: “The main thing is, we have to speed this up.
“None of us are going to be fully safe until … we get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
A patent waiver is “one possible means of increasing manufacture and access to vaccines,” he added at the time.
French President Emmanuel Macron at first said he was “very much in favour” of opening up intellectual property.
He later claimed it should be done in a way that emulates what was done years ago with medicines against HIV when such medicines became too expensive for poor nations.
He said: “We need to start a debate today about doing exactly as we did at the time of HIV, where the intellectual property was a source of blockage, it should be possible to lift it, but in a limited way.”
He stressed that any action should not financially punish the companies that came up with the vaccine technology.
But late last night, the French leader gave unambiguous support to the proposal, putting himself on a collision course with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Boris Johnson, who rejected the idea.
President Macron tweeted: “From day one, France has worked to make solutions to the pandemic a global public good.
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“Dose sharing, opening up of intellectual property, financing of health systems. It’s up to the G7 to get involved!”
A French official confirmed that “opening up of intellectual property” meant supporting waiving patents on vaccines.
Germany, the EU’s biggest economic power and home to a large pharmaceutical sector, rejected the idea, saying vaccine shortages were due to limited production capacity and quality standards rather than patent protection issues.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said he shared Biden’s goal of providing the whole world with vaccines.
But a spokeswoman for Angela Merkel’s government said in a statement that “the protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future.”
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Boris Johnson’s Government also rejected the idea at first glance, claiming it would require unanimous support and could take too much time in the pressing fight against coronavirus.
A spokesperson said: “We are engaging with the US and other World Trade Organisation (WTO) members constructively on the Trips waiver issue, but we need to act now to expand production and distribution worldwide.”
They added: “While we will constructively engage in the IP discussions, we must continue to push ahead with action now including voluntary licensing agreements for vaccines and support for Covax.”
South Africa and India made the initial waiver proposal at the WTO in October, gathering support from many developing countries, which say it will make vaccines more widely available.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told member states that she “warmly welcomed” the US move.
She said: “We need to respond urgently to COVID-19 because the world is watching and people are dying.”
World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus reached for capital letters in a tweet calling Biden’s move a “monumental moment in the fight against COVID-19”, and said it reflected “the wisdom and moral leadership of the United States.”
Despite that enthusiasm, drugmakers, who stand to lose revenue if they are stripped of patent rights to COVID-19 vaccines, and other critics found flaws in the proposal.
Until now, the European Union has been aligned with a group of countries, including Britain and Switzerland – home to large pharmaceutical companies – that have opposed the waiver.