PORTO, Portugal (AP) — European Union leaders said Friday that the most pressing impediments to COVID-19 vaccine supplies are not intellectual property rights but export bans and production capacity issues that need to be addressed before patent waivers should be considered.
In the wake of the United States backing calls to waive patents on vaccine technology, French President Emmanuel Macron summarized the view from Europe when he said on the sidelines of an EU summit, “You can give the intellectual property to laboratories that do not know how to produce it. They won’t produce it tomorrow.”
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez gave the idea endorsed by U.S. President Joe Biden this week a guarded welcome, but he immediately added, “We believe it is insufficient. It should be more ambitious.”
While the United States has kept a tight lid on exports of American-made vaccines so it can inoculate its own population first, the EU has become the world’s leading provider, allowing about as many doses to go outside the 27-nation bloc as are kept for its 446 million inhabitants. Many EU nations, however, have demanded a stop to vaccine nationalism and export bans.
Macron said it was more important for Biden to work on this. “The Anglo-Saxons block many of these ingredients” needed to make vaccines, the French leader said, referring to Washington and London. “Today, 100% of vaccines produced in the United States of America are for the American market.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said this week that the EU had distributed about 200 million doses within the bloc while about the same amount had been exported abroad.
“We are the most generous in the world of developed nations. Europe should be proud of itself,” Macron said.
The EU is trying to regain the diplomatic initiative on vaccines after Biden put it on the back foot with his surprising endorsement of lifting patent protections on COVID-19 vaccines, seeking to solve the problem of getting shots into the arms of people in poorer countries.
EU leaders said they were ready to discuss the U.S. backing for proposals first submitted to the World Trade Organization by India and South Africa, but they said many other initiatives would be more effective at this point, ranging from ramping up production capacity to distributing raw materials. So far, they insisted, the issue of waiving patents is not a big problem.
Casert reported from Brussels.