President Biden has not made a decision yet on whether to support a waiver of COVID-19 vaccine patents that backers say would help increase global access to vaccines, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.
Biden has been under pressure from progressive Democrats in Congress as well as health care groups to support the waiver for vaccine patents at the World Trade Organization, which backers say would help lower-income countries have access to the vaccine recipe so that they can increase production.
The White House has for weeks declined to articulate a position, but Psaki provided more detail on Tuesday into the considerations the administration is weighing.
"Our focus is on maximizing production and supply for the world at the lowest possible cost, and there are a lot of different ways to do that," she said.
"That's one of the ways," Psaki added, referring to the waiver. "But we have to assess what makes the most sense."
She pointed to the strong manufacturing capabilities for vaccines already in the United States.
"We have to evaluate whether it's more effective to manufacture here and provide supply to the world, or the [intellectual property] waiver is an option," she said. "There has not been a recommendation made from the [U.S. trade representative], nor has the president made a decision."
Biden also discussed the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday during a call on ways to help India fight a disturbing spike in coronavirus cases.
India is one of the main backers of the vaccine patent waiver proposal, along with South Africa.
Some experts have questioned whether the patent waiver would actually help as much as the backers claim, saying the main problem is having the complex manufacturing capacity and know-how to make the vaccines rather than simply needing access to a recipe.
Pressure is rising from Democrats in Congress for the Biden administration to support the waiver. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and nine Democratic senators wrote a letter to Biden earlier this month.
In the House, leading Democrats are also pushing the administration. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said during an event last week that he discussed the issue with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai.
"She is keenly aware, sympathetic, the administration is I think, working this through, but clearly Ambassador Tai and the team is aware of the challenges," Blumenauer said.
Tai met virtually with executives from Pfizer and AstraZeneca on Monday to discuss the proposal.
Vaccine makers are strongly opposed to being forced to waive their intellectual property rights to vaccines and have pointed instead to entering into voluntary licensing agreements to help boost manufacturing.