Analysis: Joe Biden’s support for idea is vital but it won’t happen without backing of other rich nations

It was a “seismic decision” by Joe Biden, the US president, say campaigners who have fought for the demolition of patent protection on vaccines and drugs for decades. The US administration has amazed supporters and critics alike by throwing its considerable weight behind the pleas of South Africa, India and about 100 developing countries at the World Trade Organization to overturn patents on Covid vaccines in the interests of getting more of them, more cheaply and faster, to huge populations in need.

Patents preserve the profits of the multinational companies that make drugs and vaccines. They make it illegal for up to 20 years for manufacturers of generic medicines to turn out cheap copycat versions. In this pandemic where, as the World Health Organization says, no one is safe until everyone is safe, there is a powerful moral case for ditching them.

Related: Covid vaccines: what is patent waiving and will it solve the global shortage?

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