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May 9, 2021

Merkel urges US to export Covid vaccines

May 9, 2021

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday urged the United States to export coronavirus vaccines made on its soil, as she rejected a patent waiver call from Washington for the jabs.

"Now that a further part of the American population has been vaccinated, I hope that we can come to a free exchange of components and an opening of the market for vaccines," she said, adding the EU has exported a big chunk of jabs made in the bloc and that should "be the rule".

Speaking at a press conference after talks with EU leaders, Merkel reiterated her opposition to calls for pharmaceutical companies to drop their intellectual property protection for the vaccines. "I do not think that a patent waiver is the solution to make more vaccines available to more people," she said.

"Rather, I think that we need the creativity and the power of innovation of companies, and to me, that includes patent protection."

The leader of Europe’s biggest economy underlined the importance of spurring innovation, saying it must not be "weakened such that no rapid adaptations for virus variants can be found".

Vaccines were "highly sensitive" products, she said, adding that manufacturers were already working at high speed to ramp up capacities, including through licensing partnerships.

"The problem is not that people are sitting on their patents and not taking action," she said.

Germany is home to BioNTech, the company which co-developed with Pfizer the first Covid vaccine to be approved for use in the West late last year.

Another German company, Curevac, is in the final stages of clinical trials and eyeing authorisation for its Covid jabs in the EU in the coming weeks.Covid will "no longer be circulating in the UK by August", the outgoing chief of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has said.

Clive Dix, who took over the role in December and stepped down last week, said it was his belief the UK will have a population protected from Covid this summer.

He told the Daily Telegraph: "We’ll have probably protected the population from all the variants that are known.

"We’ll be safe over the coming winter," he added.

His comments come as more than 50 million doses of a Covid vaccine have been distributed in the UK, 16.7 million of which are second doses, according to government figures.

Earlier this week, vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said scientists are looking at a range of options for an autumn booster vaccination campaign to protect against a third wave of coronavirus.

This could include new jabs to protect against variants or mixing the types of injections given. But Dix told the paper he felt this could be pushed back into the new year. He said: "We may decide that we need to boost the immune response, and we’ve got the vaccine to do that.

"Whether we’ll need to or not, I would think probably not, but we might still do it in case. I really don’t think it should be autumn.

"We should be thinking about boosting in maybe January or February, because the immune response will be strong."

Meanwhile, Pope Francis offered his support on Saturday for waiving coronavirus vaccine patents to boost supply to poorer countries, in a video message to the "Vax Live" concert.

The Argentine pontiff backed "universal access to the vaccine and the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights" in the recording made in his native Spanish.

Francis, who has repeatedly spoken of the need to share vaccines, condemned the "virus of individualism" that "makes us indifferent to the suffering of others".

"A variant of this virus is closed nationalism, which prevents, for example, an internationalism of vaccines," he said.

"Another variant is when we put the laws of the market or intellectual property above the laws of love and the health of humanity." His comments come after the United States announced its surprise support for a global waiver on patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines.

The move is fiercely opposed by major drugmakers because they say it would set a precedent that could threaten future innovations, and insist the move would not speed up production.

Britain’s Prince Harry and pop royalty including Jennifer Lopez were among those who took part in "Vax Live: The Concert To Reunite The World", to urge faster and more equitable global vaccinations.