NEW YORK – If world leaders don’t take steps this fall to get COVID-19 vaccines to the world’s poorest countries, according to Eric LeCompte, the executive director of Jubilee USA Network, then the darkest days of the pandemic still lie ahead.
Temporarily waiving COVID-19 vaccine patents is an important step to accomplishing that goal, LeCompte said. Earlier this week, religious leaders advocated for that action to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, who expressed support.
Now, the decision rests in the hands of the World Trade Organization.
Temporarily waiving patents would allow countries in the developing world to produce and distribute COVID-19 vaccines, conducting tests and treatments on their own, which quickly increases their inoculation and treatment capacity.
“If [the World Trade Organization] doesn’t move forward, we’re not going to have the vaccines we need for global distribution, let alone what it seems now are a necessity for a third shot or booster shot for people who have already been vaccinated in the developed world,” LeCompte told Crux.
Opponents of waiving property rights fear that if market incentives for developing new medicines are distorted by government action, research and development, such as the extraordinary push that produced the COVID-19 vaccine, will be reduced.
On that front, LeCompte stressed the temporary nature of the proposal before the World Trade Organization, which he argued is an incentive for the private sector. It means a waiver would only last a certain period of time before property rights are restored.
The meeting with Tai was the first of its kind between religious leaders and the U.S. Trade Representative. Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Services, who is a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on International Justice and Peace, represented the Catholic Church.
LeCompte said Broglio and the other religious leaders – representing the United Church of Christ, Methodist Church, Lutheran Church and Episcopal Church – were able to “very profoundly share the stories of what’s happening in most of the world” when it comes to the spread of COVID-19, and convey the need for urgent action on issues such as the temporarily waiving the property rights on COVID-19 vaccines.
Having the ear of the U.S. Trade Representative is key to international work with an administration. The role is a cabinet level position part of the Executive Office of the President that serves as the president’s principal trade advisor, negotiator and spokesperson on trade issues.
They’re also responsible for developing and coordinating U.S. international trade policies and overseeing negotiations with other countries.
LeCompte, who participated in the meeting, noted the importance of the timing of the meeting with not just with World Trade Organization’s vaccine patent decision pending, but International Monetary Fund and G-20 presidents meetings in October that will have a significant impact on the path forward to ending the pandemic.
“October will be the big month where the World Trade Organization, G-20 and the IMF all make critical decisions on vaccines, and they have to be made by then or else we’re not going to have distribution to try and stop more variants and we’re facing more than a $9 trillion global economic loss,” LeCompte said.
That $9 trillion is based on IMF forecasts, he added.
LeCompte also called it “unfortunate” that world leaders have moved at this slow of a pace on global vaccine aid for the nation’s poorest countries. To date, the world’s poorest countries have received less than one percent of COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to the United Nations.
The World Trade Organization is on vacation through August, and will reconvene to consider the proposal on temporarily waiving vaccine patents when it returns on Sept. 4.
“It already may be too late to curb some of the great challenges we’re going to face, and that’s unfortunate. It’s unfortunate that the World Trade Organization went on vacation instead of dealing with the most urgent matter before it,” LeCompte said. “It’s unfortunate that world leaders have been slow to act over the summer at the G-7 and G-20 with making decisions that need to be made in terms of financing and aid for global vaccine distribution.”
In the meantime, LeCompte explained that Tai and the Biden administration are committed to continue pushing pharmaceutical companies to extend licensing production to developing countries to help with some of the production challenges.
The other key topic from the meeting between Tai and religious leaders was creating long term trade policies that will ensure protection of the planet, the vulnerable and jobs.
Within that conversation, religious leaders advocated for global trade deals that incentivize countries to transition to green energy and carbon free emissions, as well as policies that curb corruption and tax evasion.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg