EU Ready to Discuss U.S. Vaccine Patent Proposal

French President Emmanuel Macron talks to the press as he visits a giant vaccination center against the COVID-19 during its inauguration at Porte de Versailles convention center in Paris, Thursday. (Christophe Archambault, Pool Photo via AP)

European Union leaders said Thursday that in the wake of the U.S. backing for waiving patents on COVID-19 vaccine technology the 27-nation bloc will start discussing such plans immediately.

Their first get-together to mold a common view will come as as soon as during their two-day summit in Porto, Portugal, starting Friday.

While many insist that such a patent waiver could be no more than a part of the solution to end the pandemic, and likely in the midterm only, French President Emmanuel Macron said he “completely” supports opening up intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines. “Evidently, we must turn this vaccine in a global public good,” he said.

EU nations have long insisted they were in the vanguard of helping the rest of the world obtain vaccines, and have looked with a weary eye at how the United States effectively banned such exports itself.

Even though the EU has not been an immediate proponent for lifting vaccine patent restrictions, it generally welcomed the U.S. move.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “we are ready to discuss how the U.S. proposal for waiver on intellectual property protection for COVID vaccines could help” end the crisis.

The move to support waiving intellectual property protections on vaccines under World Trade Organization rules marked a dramatic shift for the United States, which had previously lined up with many other developed nations opposed to the idea floated by India and South Africa.

Von der Leyen said in a video address Thursday, though, that other issues should take center stage. “In the short run … we call upon all vaccine producing countries to allow exports and to avoid measures that disrupt supply chains,” she said.

She was hinting at so-called vaccine nationalism that has limited or made nonexistent any exports from nations including Britain and the United States, while the 27-nation bloc was allowing the export of millions of doses to countries around the world.

Many hope the initiative of the Biden administration will help poorer countries get more doses and speed the end of the pandemic. But EU nations pointed out other problems even if vaccine restrictions were lifted.

“The question is to raise capacity in the fastest way possible,” said a diplomat from an EU nation, requesting anonymity because the issue will be discussed by leaders Friday.

“Ending patent restrictions is only one element. You will also need the raw materials. How will the supply chain follow? What about the quality of production locations? So we have about 300 other elements that affect this,” the official said.