It’s good Biden is suspending vaccine patents. But the whole rotten system needs overhaul

US tax dollars helped create the Moderna vaccine – and 59% of Americans say Moderna share its vaccine technology with manufacturers worldwide

By David Adler and Mamka Anyona
May 7, 2021

On 2 October – seven months and over 2,000,000 Covid-19 deaths ago – the governments of India and South Africa petitioned the World Trade Organization to issue a temporary waiver on the Trips Agreement and ensure the “unhindered global sharing of technology and know-how … for the handling of Covid-19”. Back then, no vaccine had been approved for the prevention of the spread of the virus. But the 100 countries that joined the October petition over the following months knew then what has become apparent to everyone now: the system of pharmaceutical patents is a killing machine.

There is now broad and growing support for the Trips waiver – among doctors, Nobel laureates, senators and a large majority of the US public. On Wednesday, the Biden administration finally announced its intention to support some version of the proposal, changing course amidst a global surge of Covid-19 cases. “The extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” said US trade representative Katherine Tai, committing to “text-based negotiations at the World Trade Organization”.

But a temporary waiver is only a temporary solution to a permanent crisis in the global health system. When Aids exploded across the world in the 1990s, calls for affordable generic antiretroviral drugs to stem the pandemic in Africa were met by threats and lawsuits from pharmaceutical corporations. And the Covid-19 pandemic is certainly not the end of this crisis: from Sars and Ebola to mutant strains of Covid-19, epidemiologists warn that we have entered a new age of pandemics.

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