President Joe Biden voiced support for waiving intellectual property protections on the COVID-19 vaccines Wednesday, an action that would expand opportunities for struggling countries to manufacture their own vaccines using privately held patents.
The Biden administration’s support comes after weeks of mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers and world leaders who urged the president to back the World Trade Organization waiver. As numerous overseas nations are grappling with a lack of vaccine supply, waiving protections on the private patents will help ramp up vaccine production worldwide.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, said in a statement. “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.”
Ms. Tai said the U.S. would participate in negotiations with the WTO going forward. WTO decisions require a consensus among all members.
President Biden’s support of the waiver came just one day after the president announced a new goal to vaccinate 70% of U.S. adults by July 4.
As of Wednesday, 56.7% of people 18 and older in the U.S. have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 41.3% of adults are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. To reach the 70% goal, the U.S. will need to administer 100 million shots within the next 60 days, President Biden told reporters Tuesday.
The administration outpaced its goal of administering 200 million doses by the president’s 100th day in office, and President Biden said he is hopeful that upping the number of shots delivered by July 4 could help ease restrictions like mask wearing and distancing.
“If we can continue to drive vaccinations up and caseloads down, we’ll need our masks even less and less,” President Biden said Tuesday. “I know it will take time to get everyone back to — everything back to normal. You know, we’re all going to have to be patient with one another. Masks have needlessly divided this country. Masking as directed is a patriotic duty, but so too is treating each other with respect and patience.”
To expand vaccination efforts, President Biden said his administration would shift its focus to administering shots to children and young adults who have not yet received the vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve the use of the Pfizer vaccine for kids ages 12 to 15 by early next week. As soon as it is approved, the president said his administration is ready to pivot and direct shots to pharmacy partners.
“I want American parents to know that if that announcement comes, we are ready to move immediately — immediately move to make about 20,000 pharmacy sites across the country ready to vaccinate those adolescents as soon as the FDA grants it’s okay,” President Biden said Tuesday.
President Biden also acknowledged Tuesday that vaccination rates are slowing across the country now that the American adults who were most eager to get the vaccine have already obtained their shot.
This vaccine slowdown is even being witnessed in Santa Barbara County, where officials and organizations have now established multiple walk-in clinics to encourage more unvaccinated folks to get their shot in the arm.
On Wednesday, CVS Health announced that more than 1,100 locations in California would be offering walk-in vaccine appointments. In Santa Barbara County, any CVS location that provides the vaccine will now offer walk-in appointments, according to a spokesperson from the company.
“We continue to orchestrate an all-out effort to vaccinate the nation against COVID-19,” CVS Health President and CEO Karen Lynch said in a statement. “Thanks to the dedication and effort of our colleagues, I am proud to say we helped achieve the President’s accelerated 100-day goal of 200 million vaccines and have administered over 17 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to date.”
Though vaccine rates are slowing, case rates continue to decline in Santa Barbara County. On Wednesday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department reported 11 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the county’s active case total to 140.
Santa Maria reported five new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, Lompoc and the unincorporated areas of Goleta Valley and Gaviota reported two new cases and Goleta reported one new case. One case is pending. All other areas reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.