European leaders postpone decision on patent waiver of COVID-19 vaccines

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said on Saturday at the end of the social summit of the European Union (EU) held in the Portuguese city of Porto that leaders of the EU countries understand that there are “more pressing issues” than patent waiver on vaccines against COVID-19.

Speaking to journalists, von der Leyen said this topic “is important,” but will be discussed “in the long term, not in the short or medium term.”

According to her, Europe should not “lose sight of the main urgencies,” which are “production of vaccines as soon as possible and how they will be distributed in a fair and equitable way.”

The EU executive stressed that “the European Union is the pharmacy of the world.”

“Up to today, 400 million doses of vaccines have been produced in the European Union. And 50 percent of them — 200 million doses — have been exported to 90 different countries in the world. So we invite others to do the same,” she added.

According to her, “this is the best way, in the short term, to address bottlenecks and lack of vaccines worldwide.”

“We have now delivered over 200 million doses to the European people. So we are on track to achieve our objective of enough doses being delivered in July to vaccinate 70 percent of the European adult population. Close to 160 million Europeans now have already received a first shot of the vaccine, that’s over 25 percent of the EU population,” she noted.

She also announced that the EU has concluded the negotiations with BioNTech-Pfizer for a new contract which secures 1.8 billion doses of vaccines through 2023.

Von der Leyen was glad to report that the legal and the technical work on the EU travel certificate — the vaccination certificate — is on track for the system to be operational in June.

The U.S. on Wednesday agreed to support waiving IP restrictions on COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization (WTO).

French President Emmanuel Macron said during the social summit that he is “available to debate the proposal, but that this is not the solution” to increase the speed of vaccination.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Saturday that the U.S. proposal to suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines “will not guarantee an increase in the supply of vaccines.”

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said the EU has been “exemplary” in its contribution to the COVAX mechanism, which helps the poorest countries to have access to vaccines.

“At the European Council, we are all aware that no one will be protected until there is a global immunization. EU member states have been contributing to support the countries most in need,” he said at the end of the two-day social summit.

Twenty-four of the 27 EU heads of state and government attended the two-day meeting to set the bloc’s social agenda for the next decade. The summit was hosted by the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU.