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Photo: Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

The Biden administration will support a proposal to waive certain patent protections for coronavirus vaccines — a dramatic and controversial move designed to quickly bolster global supplies.

Why it matters: Proponents say this will help swiftly produce the vaccine doses that the developing world desperately needs. But the complex logistics of making and distributing the shots could limit the waiver’s impact, and critics say it sets a dangerous precedent.

The big picture: Developing nations and advocates on the left have been pushing the Biden administration for weeks to support a waiver of certain intellectual property rights to the vaccines, which the U.S., along with Europe and the pharmaceutical industry, had resisted until today.

  • A waiver would open the door for foreign manufacturers to make their own versions of coronavirus vaccines, using what would otherwise be considered Pfizer and Moderna's trade secrets.

The other side: Intellectual property rights are only one piece of the puzzle. Sourcing the ingredients for vaccines, standing up a complex manufacturing process, and distributing the finished doses all pose additional challenges.

  • Because of those factors, a patent waiver may not have much effect on supplies, and critics warn that the move could discourage drug companies from embarking on this kind of emergency research in the future.

What's next: Nothing's likely going to happen right away. Negotiations over the specifics of a waiver are ongoing, and will take time, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a statement.

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
May 5, 2021 - World

U.S. could fill "vaccine diplomacy" void as other powers struggle

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

The U.S. is the last major power to enter the race for global vaccine diplomacy, but still has the opportunity to win it.

Why it matters: China, Russia and other world powers began shipping vaccines all over the world months before the U.S. But they've all run into serious obstacles that leave the U.S. with an opening to become the biggest piece in the global vaccination puzzle.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
May 5, 2021 - Health

Pfizer posts crazy good quarter with major assist from COVID vaccines

Pfizer vaccine bottles are pictured at a COVID-19 vaccine administration center on May 4 in Italy. That same day, Pfizer reported a 42% year over year increase in revenue, a jump driven largely by the vaccine. Photo: by Donato Fasano/Getty Images

Pfizer reported a super strong first quarter, saying it now expects about $26 billion in sales for its COVID-19 vaccine this year. That's up from an earlier projection of about $15 billion.

The big picture: That anticipated windfall comes as the Biden administration announced more ambitious U.S. vaccine goals and the world scrambles to get access to shots.

May 5, 2021 - Health

Poll: Mask use drops after CDC relaxes guidelines

Data: Axios/Ipsos Poll; Note: 3.3% margin of error; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Vaccinated Americans are easing up on wearing masks — but so are unvaccinated Americans, according to a new Ipsos poll.

Why it matters: The latest findings are an early snapshot of how people are modifying their behavior since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced last week that fully vaccinated people don't have to wear masks outside.

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