Joe Biden makes his mark in the White House and does not hesitate to upset the established order somewhat.
He has just provided additional proof in recent hours, saying he is very officially in favor of the lifting of patents on Covid vaccines.
An announcement potentially fraught with consequences at the international level in the management of the health crisis.
Emmanuel Macron was also said to be "completely in favor" of the lifting of patents this Thursday noon.
Because for six months, negotiations have been skidding on the suspension of patents, blocked by the countries of the North.
What Joe Biden Said
By a brief statement released Wednesday evening French time, the Biden administration dropped a small bomb.
"The administration firmly believes in the protection of intellectual property, but in the service of the end of this pandemic, it supports the renunciation of these protections for Covid-19 vaccines", we can read.
The objective of this announcement is to further accelerate the global production of vaccines, while the crisis can only be resolved at this scale.
This is the whole point of the call made by the 46th American president.
"This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures."
Read also Covid-19: lift patents on vaccines, the idea that divides the world
The debate on the lifting of patents on Covid-19 vaccines has been on the negotiating table at the World Trade Organization for six months.
On October 2, a proposal in this direction was tabled by India and South Africa.
On March 11, new discussions are held.
This time, the lifting of patents is supported by a hundred member countries of the WTO.
The negotiations fail again.
The countries of the North, including the European Union, do not wish to take this path.
How do the pharmaceutical lobbies respond?
Vaccine patents aim to protect innovation. For its supporters, the lifting of these legal shields could curb the enthusiasm of pharmaceutical companies, which have deployed colossal sums to produce an effective vaccine against Covid-19. The reaction of the pharmaceutical lobbies was not long in coming. In the wake of the release of the Biden administration's statement, the International Federation of the Pharmaceutical Industry (IFPMA) expressed its disappointment. “We are fully in line with the goal that anti-Covid 19 vaccines are quickly and equitably shared around the world. But as we keep saying, a suspension is the simple but wrong answer to a complex problem ”.
The decision of the US administration to support a patent waiver for COVID19 vaccines is disappointing.
We share the same goal to ensure COVID19 vaccines are quickly & equitably shared around the world but a waiver is the wrong answer to a complex problem: https://t.co/445Rf1N7Ht
- IFPMA (@IFPMA) May 6, 2021
What would it change?
Concretely, the "recipe" for vaccines would fall into the public domain and would be exploitable by all countries of the world for a certain time.
The Biden administration is only talking about a suspension.
But the lobbyists believe that this will not solve the root of the problem.
Quite simply because the countries which demand the lifting of patents will take months to acquire technologies and supply chains very specific to the production of new generation vaccines.
"The removal of barriers will not have immediate consequences, but these countries could start producing in a few months, retorted two weeks ago Lucas Chancel, economist and co-director of the Laboratory on Global Inequalities at the School of Economics of Paris.
We have already lost a lot of time since October.
He also recalled that the lobbies, in the context of the coronavirus crisis, have received billions of public funds to produce vaccines as quickly as possible.
Is the European Union ready to review its position?
This could now increase the pressure on the European Union, which for months refused the lifting of patents. "The EU is currently the main exporter of vaccines in the world, we immediately call on all vaccine-producing countries to authorize exports," the European Commission commented on Thursday to Le Parisien. President Ursula von der Leyen said this morning that the EU is ready to discuss any proposal that would tackle the crisis effectively and pragmatically. We are therefore ready to consider how the American proposal can make it possible to achieve this objective, ”we continue soberly.
Joined this Thursday, economist Lucas Chancel deplores a wait-and-see position.
"The EU is stuck in outdated economic software and refuses to admit the obvious: a moratorium on patents related to Covid vaccines would speed up their production and help the international scientific community in the fight against future mutations," he explains.
The USA have now understood this well.
The EU will probably change its position from now on but it played against its own camp, it should have been proactive rather than a follower ”.
And France in all this?
France, until now, had sided with those who consider that the lifting of patents is only a false good idea. "The difficulty is not to give the recipe for the vaccine but to be able to produce it," recently defended the entourage of Agnès Pannier Runacher, Minister Delegate in charge of Industry. We often forget to remember that vaccines were industrialized in three or four months. We cannot go faster than necessary if we want to train the teams and guarantee the quality of the vaccines leaving the factory ”.
Can the government reconsider its position? In France, some voices are now calling on Emmanuel Macron to become a driving force for obtaining the lifting of patents. This is particularly the case of former President François Hollande. Co-signer, alongside several Nobel Prize winners and world leaders, of a forum asking Joe Biden to call for the lifting of patents, he explained in our columns. “France alone could not have taken this initiative. But she must participate in this momentum. When we want to fight against a pandemic, it is better to vaccinate as many people as possible in the world. We have seen it with AIDS, we must treat, treat everywhere ”.
Emmanuel Macron seems a little more open on the subject. Traveling to the vaccine park at the Parc des Expositions at Porte de Versailles, the Head of State said this Thursday "completely in favor of the lifting of intellectual property". Before recalling that "what makes vaccination difficult is the transfer of technology and the capacity to produce".