Belgium and EU willing to discuss lifting coronavirus vaccine patents

Belgium and EU willing to discuss lifting coronavirus vaccine patents
Credit: Belga

Belgium and the European Union would be willing to discuss the proposal made in the United States to lift the patents on coronavirus vaccines in order to speed up the production and distribution of the vaccines.

On Wednesday, the US administration announced it would support the lifting of intellectual property protections, which allow generic drug makers to produce the vaccine against royalty payments to the patent holder.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Thursday that the government would be willing to suspend the patents of coronavirus vaccines, saying these are "exceptional circumstances" when asked about these patents in parliament.

"We are open to considering the status of the coronavirus vaccine patents. I think it is logical that we sit around the table with the sector," he said, pointing out that in several developing countries, vaccination will not be possible until 2023 according to the current planning, according to reports from De Standaard. 

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European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also said the EU is ready to discuss proposals that would address the crisis in an efficient and pragmatic way.

"We are ready to talk about how the US proposal can allow us to achieve that objective," she said on Twitter on Thursday.

Vond der Leyen added that, in the short run, all vaccine-producing countries should allow immediate exports and should avoid measures that disrupt the supply chains.

The Belgian Workers' Party (PTB) said on Thursday morning that both the EU and Belgium should follow the US' example and support the temporary suspension of patents on coronavirus vaccines.

"The US government's decision is important and a huge victory for popular mobilisation. It is essential to be able to meet the demand for vaccines, not only in our country but also in the rest of the world," PTB MP Sofie Merckx said in a statement on Wednesday, welcoming the decision.

Last year, Merckx put forward a resolution seeking to ensure any future treatment or vaccines against Covid-19 remain widely accessible and affordable after the World Health Organisation (WHO) called on pharmaceutical companies to free up intellectual property rights to potential treatments.

The party plans to ask that the Belgian government support a proposal to this effect on Thursday, however, the majority parties (PS, Ecolo, MR, Open Vld, Vooruit, Groen, CDV) already refused to support this proposal last week.

Update: This story has been updated to include statements from Alexander De Croo and Ursula von der Leyen.

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