Brussels, 8 May 2021 (dpa/MIA) – The European Union does not see “a magic solution” through the US’ move to suspend intellectual property protections for Covid-19 jabs, said European Council President Charles Michel on Saturday, though leaders of the bloc expressed an openness to debate the topic.
The question of patent protection jumped onto the agenda at an informal EU summit in Portugal this week after Washington threw its weight behind the idea of temporarily suspending it in a major U-turn, forcing the bloc to re-evaluate its position.
Unlike in many industrialized countries such as the US or Germany, very few people in poorer countries have been vaccinated against Covid-19. If the patents were released, other manufacturers could also start to produce the vaccine without paying royalties.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly spoken out against the suspension, saying on Saturday that it could jeopardize the “creativity and innovation potential” of pharmaceutical firms.
Instead of such a suspension, the EU is mainly campaigning for the rapid lifting of restrictions that prevent the export of such preparations. “The priority today, it’s not patents,” said French President Emmanuel Macron at the summit in Portugal on Saturday.
“Above all the Anglo-Saxons need to stop their export bans,” he said, referring to the United States and Britain.
Macron had earlier pointed out that “100 per cent” of shots produced in the United States stayed in that country, while Europe is a major producer of vaccines for the rest of the world.
Some 200 million doses manufactured in the European Union have been shipped elsewhere, according to the European Commission.
Other countries in the bloc, such as Poland, Italy, France and Spain, have, however, indicated that they are more open to the idea.
Pope Francis is also in favour of temporary suspension, saying that a variant of the “virus of individualism” is “closed nationalism, which prevents sharing of vaccines, and putting the laws of the market or intellectual property above the laws of love and the health of others,” reported Vatican News, the Vatican’s media outlet.
Pharmaceutical companies, which own the rights, are opposed.
German vaccine manufacturer BioNTech said as much Saturday, stating that such a move would not be an expedient way to end the pandemic.
Patents are “not the limiting factor for production or supply of our vaccine,” a spokeswoman said. She added that the vaccine-making process is complex, and there is a risk of a vaccine’s quality, safety and efficacy suffering if basic requirements are not met.
BioNTech is convinced that the continued expansion of production capacity will help bring an end to the pandemic, the company said, and added that it plans to continue supplying its vaccines to less-well-off countries at “a price that is not profit oriented.”