Europe stands out among global players in sharing vaccines

Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva reiterated Europe's willingness to discuss all proposals at broadening access to vaccines worldwide. [Shutterstock/André Curvelo Campos]

The EU is ready to discuss concrete proposals on the suspension of patents on vaccines against COVID-19, but until then has been acting like no other global actor, Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva has said.

Speaking in a debate on Wednesday (19 May) in the European Parliament on the proposal to suspend vaccine patents, now also advocated by the United States, the foreign minister, representing the Council, reiterated Europe’s willingness to discuss all proposals at broadening access to vaccines worldwide.

But he emphasised the EU’s efforts in this direction and invited the other producing countries to make the same commitment.

“We will only be protected when we are all protected, so it is in our most immediate interest to contribute so that vaccines are a universal public good and that within a reasonable time, all humanity is vaccinated, so all proposals are welcome, and all subjects should be discussed”, namely in the framework of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and benefiting “from the various flexibilities allowed under the TRIPS agreement”, he said.

Santos Silva stressed that it was necessary, however, “that the proposals be presented with the indispensable detail so that discussion can be possible”, and this is what Europe is now waiting “for the United States to do, by presenting its proposal in concrete terms”.

“In the meantime, we cannot wait. In the meantime, we must act. Firstly, by extending and strengthening our production capacity. And acting, secondly, by ensuring through the systematic practice of exports that countries that do not produce vaccines have access to those vaccines,” he said.

“Europe distinguishes itself among the various global actors in the world by its will and its practice which has resulted in a considerable increase in the production capacity of vaccines on a global scale and by the fact that it exports practically half of the vaccines it produces to other countries,” he added.

“So, [we have] every willingness to examine other ways to ensure universal vaccination, but in the meantime, let us do now what we can do now. And what we can do now is to increase our capacity to produce the vaccines, and for all vaccine-producing countries to commit themselves, together with the EU, to exporting components and doses so that everyone else can have access to the vaccines”, Santos Silva said.

In the same debate, representing the Commission, executive vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis agreed with the Portuguese foreign minister, pointing out that “the EU is ready to engage constructively to examine to what extent the proposals for a targeted, time-limited waiver on intellectual property rights” could contribute to the goal of expanding production and facilitating equitable access to vaccines, but warning that this “may take some time” and that action needs to be taken on other fronts.

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