Devex Newswire: Vaccine patent waivers are just the first step

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U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement Wednesday that his administration will support a global waiver on patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines is being hailed by global health experts as a vital step toward vaccine equity.

On Wednesday U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that “the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” and shared that the Biden administration has changed its position on intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.

• “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” Tai said, adding that the U.S. will now adopt that position in negotiations at the World Trade Organization. South Africa and India have been leading the charge so far.

• The announcement marks an about face for the U.S. government, which had been one of the biggest opponents to lifting patent protections. It is also a major victory for global health advocates in and outside government — and a signal that this White House is listening to them.

• Experts cautioned that this is just a first step. Tai noted that the WTO’s “consensus-based nature” will mean negotiations take time. Global health experts — like Laurence Gostin at Georgetown University — cautioned that countries will still require funding and transfers of technology and knowledge to scale up vaccine manufacturing.

• Those moves have strong public backing: 70% of citizens in G-7 countries want governments to ensure COVID vaccine know-how is shared and to prevent pharmaceutical companies creating monopolies.

Read: Experts give Biden high grades on global health leadership

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SIGNED, SEALED, DERAILED

The African Union, European Union, and COVAX have all seen vaccine purchase agreements that seemed to be on track get derailed by production problems, export restrictions, and quality control concerns.

“We should always interpret anything that we're doing in the vaccine market like it is extremely fluid,” says Dr. John Nkengasong, director at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sara Jerving reports on the fickle nature of COVID-19 vaccine agreements

NO GOING BACK

Will the COVID-19 pandemic, the political and economic crises it has provoked, and a global reckoning with systemic racism force the global development community to embrace permanent change, or will the veil go back on when these crises fade? Some organizations are reflecting on whether they should move their headquarters or adopt new working arrangements, while others are grappling with whether they should exist at all.

Devex Pro: Will Worley looks at the rise of the post-pandemic NGO

Devex Pro Live: On May 10, Vince Chadwick will host a conversation about what France’s new development law means for the country’s programming priorities, the quality of aid, and how the country evaluates its impact. Sign up here.

CASCADING CRISES

An estimated 20 million more people were food insecure in 2020 than in 2019, according to the 2021 “Global Report on Food Crises.” The document predicts that Yemen and South Sudan will experience famine conditions this year, Teresa Welsh reports.

Conflict and insecurity were the main drivers of food crises in 23 countries and territories, affecting 100 million people at “phase 3” crisis levels in the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification system.

Read: Conflict, COVID-19, climate change send hunger to 5-year high

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF THE MIDWIFE

“I work in a primary health center — the first tier of health care in Nigeria. Midwives like me run the center and provide immunizations for babies and care for pregnant women. But COVID-19 changed the care we could offer.”

— Olajumoke Adebayo, midwife and advocate in Nigeria

Opinion: Policymakers must do more to support midwives like me

RED INK

Via TheTonarinopoti on YouTube

The seaside town of Noto, Japan reportedly spent $228,500 of emergency COVID-19 relief funding to build a 43-foot long statue of a giant squid in hopes of luring back tourists.

IN THE NEWS

A global shortage of midwives leads to an estimated 4.3 million deaths every year, according to a report by UNFPA and WHO. [The Telegraph]

Sudan says it has cleared its debt to the African Development Bank via a $425 million loan from Britain, Ireland and Sweden, ahead of a Sudan-focused debt relief conference May 17. [Reuters]

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About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.