Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Global Justice Now and The People’s Vaccine projection campaigning for global vaccine equality in London on March 8, 2021.

Global Justice Now and The People’s Vaccine projection campaigning for global vaccine equality in London on March 8, 2021. (Photo: Jess Hurd/Global Justice Now via Flickr)

Biden Urged to Stand 'On the Side of Humanity' and Back Waiver for Covid Vaccine Patents

The continued calls come amid India's "tsunami" of Covid-19 cases.

Andrea Germanos

The U.S. is facing sustained calls to end its opposition of a proposal to temporarily lift intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines and related technology as soaring coronavirus cases ravage India and new reporting spotlights a debate within the Biden administration over whether to support the patent suspension effort to help tackle the global pandemic or prioritize Big Pharma's interests.

At issue, as the Washington Post reported Friday, is a proposal India and South Africa submitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO) last October to suspend Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments to boost manufacturing capacity. It's now cosponsored by 60 nations and backed by over 100 countries as well as hundreds of U.S. and international civil society organizations, former world leaders and Nobel laureates, and some U.S. lawmakers.

In addition to the U.S., other wealthy nations including the U.K. and Canada are blocking the proposal—which needs consensus to pass.

The WTO's TRIPS panel met Friday to discuss the proposal, and it's now being revised by its cosponsors. 

Asked Friday whether the U.S. would continue its opposition, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration has not yet confirmed its stance and said the White House's "overall objective is to provide as much supply to the global community and do that in a cost-effective manner."

According to the Post: "The debate has reignited decades-old tensions in global health, pitting such influential figures as Pope Francis, who backs the patent-waiver proposal, against philanthropist Bill Gates, who's opposed. It has also challenged U.S. officials who have prioritized this nation's coronavirus response but know that the virus's continued spread and mutation overseas will eventually pose risks to Americans."

White House chief medial adviser Anthony S. Fauci and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai discussed the proposal last week, the Post reported, with Fauci indicating support for it and Tai considering it. She indicated an openness last month when she told a virtual WTO conference that "we have to consider what modifications and reforms to our trade rules might be necessary."

She also got input on the matter from powerful philanthropist Bill Gates, the Post reported. Gates made clear Sunday that he's opposed to lifting such patent protections.

In addition, the Post reported, "other officials in the Commerce Department and the coronavirus task force warn that waiving the patents could backfire, including by handing intellectual property to international rivals. They also say that allowing new manufacturers to compete for scarce vaccine ingredients and expertise could hinder existing production, and that donating doses to countries in need would be more efficient."

But the chorus of outside voices urging wealthier nations to drop their opposition to the waiver is strong and swelling. It includes Fatima Hassan, who leads South Africa's Health Justice Initiative and told the Post, "It's really amazing to me that you have one of the most powerful countries in the world, and it can't take on four CEOs."

Other prominent voices calling on President Joe Biden to back the TRIPS waiver proposal include former Irish President and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson.

"We have to be on the side of humanity and life saving in a crisis," she told BBC News.

Oxfam Great Britain CEO Danny Sriskandarajah made the case for the patent waiver this week and put the need in the context of India's current surge in Covid-19 cases—what he called "a tsumani."

"We're putting the interests of a few big pharmaceuticals above the interests of people around the world," Sriskandarajah said on the BBC's "Question Time. "No one is safe until everyone is safe and the best way to do that is to loosen the rules on who owns the rights to produce the vaccines."

India reported over 400,000 Covid-19 cases in a single day Friday—a global record. The case surge prompted the Biden administration to ban entry to the U.S. any non-U.S. citizens or permanent residents traveling from India.

Doctors Without Borders, which supports the TRIPS waiver, warned Friday that "the second wave of Covid-19 is reaching extremely alarming levels in India," and "has devastated the healthcare system and overwhelmed frontline workers."

Sharing the Post's report, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also addressed the current outbreak in India.

Warren  tweeted that the "Covid-19 outbreak in India is a humanitarian crisis that threatens its 1.4 billion citizens, and billions more around the world. I'm urging President Biden—and our vaccine manufacturers—to use every tool possible to help with this crisis."

As of Thursday, according to the New York Times, India had vaccinated just 1.8% of its population, and the country's "major vaccine companies are struggling to increase production."

In the U.S., by contrast, 39% of adults have been fully vaccinated.

Such a divide, say humanitarian aid and social justice organizations, must not be allowed to continue.

"Policymakers have to make a choice: do they support a #PeoplesVaccine to end vaccine apartheid, or do they work for big pharma?" Health GAP tweeted Friday. "The whole world is watching."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Colin Powell, Who Helped George W. Bush Lie Nation Into Iraq War, Dead at 84

"It's crucial to remember just how important Colin Powell was to selling the Iraq War, and how deliberately he used his public credibility to boost the lies that pushed us into the war. That is his biggest legacy."

Jon Queally ·


'Indefensible': US Billionaires Became $2.1 Trillion Richer in 19 Months of Pandemic

New analysis shows that just 745 individuals have combined $5 trillion in wealth—most of which will never be taxed—as nations reels from pain inflicted by Covid-19.

Jon Queally ·


Coalition Urges Biden to Make 'Transformative Change' in Approach to Global Food and Agriculture

"This pro-corporate agriculture agenda must change under your watch."

Andrea Germanos ·


Mondaire Jones Warns Against Watering Down Human Infrastructure Proposals

The New York Democrat is advocating universal programs, not means-tested ones, for programs in the Build Back Better plan.

Andrea Germanos ·


Manchin Threatening Key Climate Provision: Reports

"To take it out is to decide that climate change isn't a problem."

Andrea Germanos ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo