Biden and von der Leyen urged to end “patent hypocrisy” on anniversary of COVID pandemic

Biden and von der Leyen urged to end “patent hypocrisy” on anniversary of COVID pandemic

Release date: 11 March 2024

Dozens of leading health organisations warn that pandemic preparedness “cannot be one rule for Americans and Europeans and another for everyone else”

A group of fifty-eight charities, NGOs, and health experts have accused the United States and European Union of “patent hypocrisy” in preparations for the next pandemic, warning that their conduct threatens to “undermine the safety of all humanity in the next health crisis” on the fourth anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The groups say that President Biden and President of the European Commission von der Leyen have overseen “laudable” proposals to step around intellectual property rules when they prevent Americans and Europeans from securing access to affordable medicines but have shown a “double standard” by stopping lower-income countries from doing the same thing.

Their criticism focuses on government negotiations at the World Health Organization, where time is running out to secure an agreement that guides the response to the next pandemic. Rich countries including the US and EU are opposing measures that would help low and middle-income countries override intellectual property rules and make their own vaccines and medicines in a future health crisis.

In an open letter coordinated by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, organisations including Oxfam, The African Alliance, Innovarte, and Public Citizen tell US President Joe Biden and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen that “it cannot be one rule for Americans and Europeans and another for everyone else”, and urge the leaders to “align your international actions with your commendable domestic policies”.

They urge the EU and US leaders to support measures in the Pandemic Accord to enable lower-income countries to overcome intellectual property barriers, to make public funding of R&D conditional upon sharing pharmaceutical technology and knowhow with Global South countries, and to embed transparency in global health by publishing all government contracts with companies involved in public health.

They want the Accord to go beyond current proposals to require a small proportion of vaccines and medicines to be set aside for the Global South, and instead ensure those at the highest risk are prioritised regardless of where they live. And they call for an extension of the pandemic flu mechanism, which guarantees that countries that share pathogen data to monitor for threats receive benefits in return, including fair access to medicines produced and financial contributions made under the new WHO access and benefit-sharing system.

The intervention comes as the world marks four years since the WHO first described COVID-19 as a pandemic. In that time, rich countries have blocked a proposal to waive intellectual property rules on COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments, despite widespread support from low and middle-income countries, health and trade experts, civil society organisations, and figures ranging from Ban Ki-moon and Winnie Byanyima to Pope Francis. This refusal by wealthier nations to cooperate had cost approximately 1.3 million lives by the end of 2021, mostly in low- and middle-income countries.

Fatima Hassan, Director of the Health Justice Initiative, said:

“Rich countries had every advantage in the COVID-19 pandemic, while countries like my own were sent to the back of the line for vaccines, fighting for crumbs from the table. We cannot allow this deadly imbalance to continue into the next pandemic. We aren’t asking for anything radical. We just want transparency and to have the same rights as the EU and US to protect our populations. Denying us that right in the Pandemic Accord would be patent hypocrisy.”

Piotr Kolczyński, EU Health Policy & Advocacy Advisor to Oxfam and the People’s Vaccine Alliance, said;

“The European Commission understands that intellectual property rules can stand in the way of people getting fair and equal access to the medicines they need. That’s why they are proposing a package of reforms to overcome these barriers in Europe. Yet, it is a different story outside of Europe. Von der Leyen needs to answer why she thinks low and middle-income countries shouldn’t be allowed to play by the same rules.”

Peter Maybarduk, Access to Medicines Director at Public Citizen, said:

“President Biden is staking his reputation on his ability to take on Big Pharma’s profiteering. While the President is taking crucial steps to stand up to the industry domestically, his administration still holds open a door for pharma companies to profit at the expense of people’s lives in lower-income countries. He must change course from this untenable double standard.

“Millions of people in developing countries died at the height of the COVID emergency without access to the NIH-supported mRNA vaccines that made such a difference in the United States. The world has a rare, fragile chance to do better through the Pandemic Accord. The United States has uncommon power, and therefore responsibility, to help make a strong agreement that protects lives and livelihoods at home and worldwide, with some measure of justice.”


Notes to editors

The full letter, demands, and list of signatories are available here.

Spokespeople are available for comment.

Media contact

Joe Karp-Sawey, Senior Media Advisor, People’s Vaccine Alliance
[email protected]