President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that his administration is in favor of waiving COVID-19 vaccines of patent protection. While patents were supported by wealthy countries like Australia, Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, Biden argues that patents would stifle manufacturing of vaccines, especially in low-income countries.

“The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” said U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai in a statement Wednesday. Tai also specified that World Trade Organization negotiations “will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.”

The decision was hailed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who along with nine other senators penned a letter to the president. “I applaud the Biden administration for taking this bold step to speed up the production and availability of coronavirus vaccines,” Sanders wrote. “I also recognize the dedicated work done by activists around the world to put this issue on the global agenda. We are all in this together.”

Pharmaceutical companies were highly critical of the Biden decision. Stephen Ubl, CEO of the for-profit trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), said, “In the midst of a deadly pandemic, the Biden Administration has taken an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety. This decision will sow confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already strained supply chains and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines.”

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