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Big pharma furious as Biden U-turn on vaccine patents prompts MEPs to demand EU follow suit

BIG PHARMA reeled and MEPs called on the European Union to change course today after US President Joe Biden said that Washington would back a temporary patent waiver on Covid-19 vaccines.

Mr Biden’s announcement on Wednesday night affirmed a position he had taken in the presidential election, but marks a U-turn by Washington, which had led the European Union, Britain, Canada, Australia and Japan in resisting the demand from developing countries since last autumn.

French President Emmanuel Macron rushed to express support for his US counterpart’s decision, suddenly revealing that he “completely” supports lifting intellectual property protections under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules for the “global public good.”

The EU said it would discuss today whether to change its own position, with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen saying the bloc was “ready to discuss how the US proposal could help.”

But Manon Aubry of the socialist France Unbowed party, who co-chairs the European United Left–Nordic Green Left group in the European Parliament, said Mr Biden’s move was “a game changer – the European Union is now the last place in the world to protect big pharma’s profits over public health.”

German Green MEP Ska Keller, a co-president of the European Greens, agreed: “There can be no more excuses from the European Union. Support this historic initiative and make global solidarity a reality.”

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations cried foul, saying that “a waiver is simple but the wrong answer to a complex problem. Waiving patents of Covid-19 vaccines will not increase production nor provide practical solutions needed to battle this global health crisis.”

Unless pharmaceutical firms can continue to be assured of profit from their products, it added, they would cease to innovate and develop new medicines. Jeremy Levin, chairman of biotech trade association Bio, called the decision “very unnecessary and damaging.”

But the World Health Organisation hailed it as a “monumental moment,” and its Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti predicted that it could “change the game for Africa, unlocking millions more doses and saving countless lives.”

Medicins san Frontieres also said it “applauds the US government’s bold decision.”

India and South Africa proposed the patent waiver to the WTO in October, quickly winning the support of most developing countries. But opposition from the US and its allies blocked it until now.

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