The United States supports waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines in order to increase global access and quickly end the pandemic.

Katherine Tai, seated, gesturing while speaking (© Sarah Silbiger/AP Images)
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai testifies before the U.S. Senate on April 28. (© Sarah Silbiger/AP Images)

On May 5, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that the United States will support a waiver of intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to allow manufacturers around the world to produce vaccines.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” Tai said. The Biden-Harris administration believes strongly in intellectual property rights, she added, but supports a waiver in service of ending the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Administration’s aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible,” Tai said.

The United States will work with WTO member states to craft the temporary waiver, though this will take time given the consensus-based nature of the WTO and the complexity of the issues involved.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is also working with international partners and the private sector to increase the availability of raw materials needed for vaccines and to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution worldwide.

The United States contributed $2 billion to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility and has pledged an additional $2 billion through 2022. COVAX, an international partnership dedicated to equitable global access to vaccines, aims to distribute 2 billion doses of COVID-­19 vaccine by the end of 2021.

As part of the Quad partnership, the United States — along with Australia, India and Japan — is planning to finance, manufacture and distribute at least 1 billion doses of vaccine for the Indo-Pacific region by the end of 2022.

The United States is also rushing emergency assistance to support India’s battle with COVID-19, including oxygen equipment, therapeutics, personal protective equipment and ventilators. The United States is also providing India with raw materials for vaccine production.

Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Director John N. Nkengasong, in a May 5 tweet, commended the U.S. government’s plan to participate in negotiations to waive protections on COVID-19 vaccines under the WTO TRIPS agreement.

“This is leadership in action!” he said. “History will remember this decision as a great act of humanity!”