U.S. Trade Representative Discusses Suspension of Vaccine Patent Protection with Drugmakers Drugmakers Fear Benefit from China and Russia

As the Biden administration faces mounting domestic and international pressure to do more to support countries around the world in dealing with the pandemic, U.S. Trade Representative David Deitch met Monday (April 26, 2021) with the heads of two major pharmaceutical companies to discuss exemptions from WTO rules protecting patents on relevant technologies in the face of the pandemic.

File photo: U.S. Trade Representative David Deitch

A statement issued by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative said Dyche met separately with the heads of Pfizer Inc. and AstraZeneca’s U.S. division to discuss the production of vaccines and proposed exemptions from WTO provisions protecting intellectual property rights for the New Crown vaccine and related medical products.

India and South Africa, which were hit hard by the outbreak, made the proposal to the World Trade Organization last October, and the WTO is scheduled to meet Friday for consultations on the proposal.

The former U.S. Trump administration and some other pharmaceutical majors had opposed the proposal, but as the outbreak in India worsened severely, the Biden administration came under pressure from domestic politicians and civil society groups, as well as the international community, to provide more vaccines to developing countries while allowing other countries to produce more vaccines using technology patented by U.S. and big Western pharmaceutical companies.

The USTR statement did not mention whether Dyche urged Pfizer and AstraZeneca to allow countries like India to use the patents to produce much-needed vaccines during the meeting, but she expressed deep sympathy for the plight of the Indian people and reiterated that the Biden administration’s number one priority is to save lives and end the new pandemic in the United States and around the world.

Major U.S. vaccine manufacturers had warned U.S. officials that the temporary withdrawal of patent protection on vaccines would benefit China and Russia, saying they were using new U.S. technology to develop other vaccines and new herbs to treat cancer and heart disease to compete with U.S. drugmakers and harm U.S. interests.

A statement from the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said Dyche and the drugmakers’ executives promised to stay in communication on the issue.