G20 leaders to back COVID-19 vaccine voluntary licensing, no patent waiver

·3-min read

By Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Leaders of the world's largest economies will adopt on Friday a declaration recommending voluntary actions to boost COVID-19 vaccine production, snubbing a push from the United States and other nations on patent waivers, the final text shows.

Several G20 leaders will speak at the summit, one of this year's major events to coordinate global actions against the pandemic. U.S. President Joe Biden is not listed among the speakers, with Vice President Kamala Harris representing the United States at the meeting, an EU Commission spokesman said.

The White House did not immediately comment.

The EU executive, which co-hosts the summit with the Italian government, is set to announce it will set up three manufacturing hubs in Africa this year to boost long-term production of vaccines, one EU official told Reuters.

The official said drugmakers are also set to announce on Friday they will provide large supplies of at-cost COVID-19 vaccines to poor nations this year to try to redress a global imbalance.

Among the drugmakers expected to announce doses for poorer nations are vaccine partners Pfizer and BioNTech, the official said, adding that at least two other companies are expected to make announcements on Friday.

It is not clear whether the announcements will concern new doses or vaccines already pledged. BioNTech declined to comment and Pfizer was not immediately available to comment.

NO WAIVERS

The draft declaration, whose final version has been seen by Reuters, does not mention vaccine patent waivers as a tool to address the current shortages of COVID-19 jabs in poorer nations, in line with an earlier report from Reuters.

The Biden administration earlier in May joined India, South Africa and many other developing countries in calling for a temporary waiver of patents for COVID-19 vaccines, in the hope that would boost production and allow for a more equitable distribution of shots across the world.

EU nations and other vaccine-making countries have opposed the patent waiver and urged instead the removal of U.S. trade barriers that they consider the main bottleneck preventing a ramping up of global vaccine production.

The draft document recommends as short-term options to boost output "voluntary licensing agreements of intellectual property, voluntary technology and know-how transfers, and patent pooling on mutually-agreed terms."

It also says solutions should be found within existing global agreements that do not include patent waivers.

Leaders are also set to recognize "the importance of addressing the ACT-A funding gap," the text says, referring to the ACT-Accelerator, a tool of the World Health Organization (WHO) to distribute COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and tests across the world.

An earlier version of the conclusions had a commitment to fully fund the program, which is still $19 billion short for achieving its goals.

Leaders say that one option to quickly help poorer nations is sharing vaccines that wealthy countries have already purchased, but there are no firm commitments in the final text.

The WHO co-led COVAX program, which is dedicated to equitable global vaccine distribution, is mentioned as one option for providing donated doses to countries.

A spokeswoman for Gavi, a vaccine alliance that co-leads COVAX, said the best way to guarantee fair distribution of vaccines across the world is through "sharing doses with COVAX, along with ensuring a fully-funded" program.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; additional reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Howard Goller and Bill Berkrot)

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