Sat 27 November 2021:
As international worry grows over a novel coronavirus strain discovered in South Africa, US President Joe Biden has called on countries attending a WTO meeting next week to relax intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines.
Biden said in a statement on Friday that the finding of the new variation shows that the pandemic will not be gone until everyone throughout the world has equitable access to immunizations.
“The news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations,” Biden said. “This news today reiterates the importance of moving on this quickly.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday designated the new coronavirus strain – which it dubbed Omicron after a letter in the Greek alphabet – a “variant of concern”. Omicron has been blamed for a surge in new infections in South Africa.
Omicron’s emergence comes just days before WTO officials as well as 164 member states are scheduled to meet on November 30 in Geneva.
WTO talks have stalled over India and South Africa’s proposal to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and supplies.
The European Union, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland have all spoken out against such a move.
India has accused wealthy countries of “preventing poor countries’ access to vaccines,” resulting in deaths. Switzerland’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization, Didier Chambovey, said on Thursday that the country was willing to compromise but opposed a full waiver.
Despite Biden’s Friday statement, some public health professionals believe the United States has not done enough to supply vaccines to other countries.
While many underdeveloped countries have yet to widely administer first vaccinations to their citizens, the United States has recently moved forward with booster vaccinations for Americans, approving the vaccines for children aged five to eleven.
“I call on the nations gathering next week for the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting to meet the U.S. challenge to waive intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines, so these vaccines can be manufactured globally,” Biden’s statement read.
“I endorsed this position in April; this news today reiterates the importance of moving on this quickly.”