The European Committee of the Regions has called on the European Union to temporarily waive patents for vaccines against the COVID-19 virus, in order to curb the rapid spread of the pandemic. It also pressed for production in Europe to be increased and for an acceleration in the vaccination campaign across Europe.
The Committee – the EU’s assembly of local and regional governments – is the first EU institution to call for a waiver. A recent upsurge in infections in other continents has added to pressure for intellectual-property rights to be suspended in the interests of maximising the production of vaccines and ensuring equitable access to them.
Apostolos Tzitzikostas President of the European Committee of the Regions and Governor of Central Macedonia, said: “Basic health care is a fundamental human right, and this is the most fundamental threat to global health in generations. There is no place for vaccine nationalism, and the European Union must continue to lead by example, protecting all its citizens, leaving no region, city or territory behind. Backed by EU funds, scientists, industry and regulators have done an outstanding job in finding effective treatments so swiftly. The European Union must show it is true to solidarity and its values, ensuring a temporary waiver on patents of COVID-19 vaccines and increasing vaccine production to help every community in the world.”
Ximo Puig (ES/PES), President of the Regional Government of Valencia, led the call for patents to be suspended. Speaking at the CoR’s plenary session, he said: “The pandemic is not over yet. It has already killed more people than the battles of Verdun and Stalingrad. To end it, we will need billions of vaccines a year for the entire world population. That is why Europe must ensure that the big pharmaceutical companies meet their delivery commitments. We need greater vaccine manufacturing and delivery capacity. To this end, I put forward options such as the temporary suspension of patents, the financial compensation of laboratories if the compulsory licensing formula is chosen, or the need for inter-company cooperation to increase production. We can no longer reverse what happened in the past on the battlefields of Stalingrad or Verdun, but there is still time to alleviate this human tragedy.”
The proposal is set out in a resolution – ‘on free movement during the COVID-19 pandemic (Digital Green Certificate) and the scaling up of vaccine production’ – that was debated on 6 May, with the final vote to be announced on 7 May. However, the paragraph containing the request that “in order to increase vaccine production, the European Union could explore new solutions such as a temporary suspension of patents for medicines and medical technologies to treat or prevent COVID-19 infections” was not subject to amendment by any group or member of the Committee.
The United States said on 5 May that it would start negotiations at the World Trade Organization to loosen rules on patents enjoyed by pharmaceutical companies. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said on 6 May that the European Union is “ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner”.
A survey commissioned by the European Committee of the Regions found last September that Europeans trust regional and local authorities more than they trust the EU or their national government, and that health is the area where Europeans would most like to see regional and local authorities to have more influence on decisions taken at the EU level.