A row over intellectual property patents for COVID-19 vaccines across the globe is threatening to drive a wedge between the USA and South Africa. Pharmaceutical lobbying group PhRMA has sent a letter to President Joe Biden himself this week, pleading with the senior Democrat to oppose any removal of ‘copyright protections’ on the life-saving jabs.
Why has South Africa upset the USA?
The letter comes with some serious backing: The CEOs of Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson have all signed the document, as they fight for the right to protect their patents. The argument, however, is opposed by the ANC government: Trade officials from South Africa have joined forces with India, to relax copyright laws on vaccine compositions.
SA is of the belief that the global response to the pandemic ‘is being hindered’ by these protections. Without a free exchange of information, our representatives have argued, the supply of vaccines will be limited.
Joe Biden dragged into vaccine row
But PhRMA is seething with this waiver application. In their letter to Joe Biden, the group slams South Africa in particular for presenting their arguments ‘without any evidence’ – and POTUS is likely to side with his domestic experts:
“Unfortunately, in October, India and South Africa formally proposed for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to suspend critical intellectual property provisions of the Agreement. This includes the protection of copyrights, industrial designs, and patents on any COVID-19 innovation – until widespread vaccination is in place globally.”
“In requesting the waiver, India and South Africa argued without evidence that intellectual property is hindering the global response to the pandemic and that the waiver would help scale up research, development, manufacturing, and supply of needed products. We oppose this waiver, and ask the Biden Administration to do the same to protect intellectual property.”
South Africa on a ‘collision course’ with Joe Biden Administration
The major vaccine manufacturers – who have achieved something of a miracle to provide COVID-19 jabs at such a rapid pace – also explained that protections on intellectual property do much more to help scale-up production than they do to slow it down. Now this scathing letter has landed on Joe Biden’s desk, a diplomatic row looms over the horizon.
“Intellectual property protections have been essential not only to speed the research and development of new treatments and vaccines, but also to facilitate sharing of technology and information to scale up vaccine manufacturing to meet global needs. Eliminating those protections would undermine the global response to the pandemic.”