US trade chief Tai says COVID-19 recovery depends on addressing global vaccine inequity


WASHINGTON: US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said on Tuesday (May 4) that making vaccines more widely available throughout the world is needed to end the coronavirus pandemic and foster economic recovery.

In remarks to a Council of the Americas conference, Tai said the world had made real strides toward ending the pandemic but that a lot of work lies ahead.

“That includes making the vaccine widely available and addressing the global inequity in vaccine access,” she said. “This is not just a public health requirement. Our economic recovery depends on it.”

Tai is due to discuss demands from developing countries for a World Trade Organization waiver of intellectual property rights on coronavirus vaccines during a WTO General Council meeting later this week.

She has been meeting with the chief executives of the major vaccine manufacturers in recent days to discuss the waiver proposal and ways to boost vaccine production and distribution. .

White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said on Sunday that Tai would “start talks on how we can get this vaccine more widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared”, adding that more details would be offered in coming days.

Liberal Democrats in Congress have put pressure on President Joe Biden’s administration to support the vaccine intellectual property waiver, arguing it would help save lives and prioritise people over drug company profits.

But the pharmaceuticals industry opposes the proposed waiver as too broad and setting a precedent that would erode incentives to develop future vaccines.

A dozen House of Representatives Republicans wrote to Tai on Tuesday to urge her to “continue to oppose” the IP rights waiver, arguing it would not meaningfully improve vaccine availability.

“The scope of the requested waiver is overbroad and unjustified in light of the economic harm it would cause and the negligible benefits it would provide,” wrote the members, led by House Judiciary Committee senior Republican Darrell Issa. 

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