EU Sets Out Proposal to Ramp Up Global Supplies of Vaccines

The European Union’s executive arm will present a proposal to the World Trade Organization calling on other countries to help boost vaccine production capacity in developing countries and export more shots while they explore a possible waiver on patents.

Valdis Dombrovskis, vice president of the European Commission, told the European Parliament on Tuesday that “universal and fair access to vaccines and treatments must be the global community’s number one priority.”

Specifically this would mean limiting the application of export restrictions in order to keep supply chains open, and applying no restrictions to exports toward developing countries included in the Covax aid program.

The commission’s proposals are a response to a U.S. call to waive patents on vaccines, which have been met with skepticism by several member states, including Germany. EU leaders have urged President Joe Biden to lift restrictions on exports of vaccines to address the needs of developing countries before embarking on complex talks about patent waivers.

The U.S. has yet to share any written proposals since it first made the announcement some 10 days ago, a person familiar with the matter said. The EU has therefore gone ahead with the recommendations presented today, and will put them to the WTO shortly.

Dombrovskis said the EU was open to engaging constructively with proposals for a targeted and time limited waiver from intellectual property rights, but added that it would still take time to ramp up production in developing countries. In the meantime, the bloc plans to launch an initiative to help scale-up vaccine manufacturing in Africa.

“Vaccine producing countries should be ready to export a fair share of their domestic production,” Dombrovskis said.

Dombrovskis said he expected all vaccine producers and developers to make concrete pledges to support increased supplies to vulnerable and developing countries.

The EU’s proposal to the WTO will be based on three components:

  • boosting trade in vaccines and limiting restrictions on exports
  • expanding production, with the help of current vaccine manufacturers
  • a review of intellectual property rights, including potential compulsory licensing

“While voluntary licenses are more effective as an instrument to facilitate expansion of production and the sharing of know-how, compulsory licenses are a perfectly legitimate tool in the context of a pandemic,” Dombrovksis told the European parliament.

Dombrovskis reiterated calls on countries that have capacity and have vaccinated a large part of their population to follow the EU’s example and start to share their production with countries in need. He noted that the bloc had exported 50% of its production - “more than 200 million doses to 45 countries,” he said - and delivered millions more through the Covax facility.

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