EU does not want to suspend patent protection for vaccine

Chancellor Merkel categorically rejects the release of the patents for corona vaccines. To this end, the EU calls on the USA in particular to finally give up the American export bans on the vaccine and its precursors.

Dhe EU considers suspending patent protection for Covid vaccines at best a long-term means of fighting the pandemic. At a special EU summit in Porto, a clear majority of the heads of state and government voiced criticism of the American President Joe Biden’s idea of ​​temporarily suspending patent protection. The move is certainly not a “miracle solution” in the fight against the corona virus, said EU Council President Charles Michel on Saturday.

Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said that in the short and medium term, it is much more important for the global vaccine supply that all vaccine-producing countries allow exports and ensure that the supply chains are not interrupted. Von der Leyen wants to discuss the question further.

In contrast, Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), who attended the summit by video, repeated her categorical rejection of a patent release. The manufacturers are not sitting on the patents, but are trying to expand production. In addition, “the innovative strength of those who manufacture vaccines today must not weaken,” said Merkel in Berlin. You speak for a country where corona vaccines are developed, produced and exported. The goal is to give vaccine to as many people as possible. Above all, manufacturers would have to be able to build up new production capacities and issue licenses as quickly as possible. “Both take place.”

Before the summit, the Spanish government had openly advertised in a paper to join Biden’s initiative in the WTO. French President Emmanuel Macron and Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi were also open about the initiative, but admitted that it would not be a solution in the short term. The demand for a temporary waiver of patent protection for corona vaccines goes back to an application by India and South Africa to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In October 2020, the two countries called for the protection of patents under WTO law to be suspended for the duration of the pandemic. Biden last week agreed to this demand, which had been discussed in the WTO framework for months, but left it open as to how his proposal could be implemented.

“The limiting factor is not the property rights”

Decisions in the WTO must be made by consensus, and the EU’s negative stance alone precludes such a consensus. The EU commission responsible for EU trade policy is unlikely to receive a mandate from the member states to negotiate the suspension of patents in view of Porto’s opinion. If at some point there should be WTO negotiations about a temporary waiver of patent protection, these would take years, according to the EU Commission. It is also pointed out there that patent protection is not at all decisive for the necessary increase in vaccine production. “The limiting factor for faster manufacturing is not intellectual property rights, but raw materials, production capacities, i.e. factories, and global supply chains,” said an official.

Von der Leyen also pointed out on Saturday that Europe, as the “pharmacy in the world”, is the only manufacturing continent that exports to a considerable extent. “400 million cans have been produced in the EU, half of which were exported to 90 different countries,” said the head of the Commission. Other states should do the same. The appeal for more openness is directed primarily to the United States. Most recently, the founder of the Tübingen-based manufacturer Curevac, Ingmar Hoerr, complained that the USA was holding back raw materials for vaccine production. French President Emmanuel Macron called on Biden to lift the Trump-era export ban on finished vaccines and precursors.

There is also resentment in the EU Commission that the US President is promoting the release of patents, but at the same time endangering supply chains through the export ban. Another argument against the release of the patent is cited in the Brussels authorities, especially with regard to the mRNA technology on which the as yet unapproved Curevac vaccine and the vaccines from Biontech and Moderna are based: “China is primarily responsible for this technology interested. ”The Chinese vaccine is significantly less effective than the mRNA preparations.

The EU itself has now finally secured another 1.8 billion doses of the Biontech Pfizer vaccine. The contract with the company was finally signed and sealed, said von der Leyen in Porto. It contains 900 million cans of firm orders and an option for an additional 900 million cans. The delivery should start at the end of the year and last until 2023. For the current year, the EU has ordered a total of 600 million cans from Biontech / Pfizer, a good half of which should be delivered by the middle of the year. According to the latest figures from the EU Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) in Stockholm, 31.3 percent of adult EU citizens have now received the first dose of vaccine; in Germany it is 34.3 percent.