PARIS -- While the U.S. president is calling for suspending patents on COVID-19 vaccines, experts at UNESCO are quietly working to a more ambitious strategy: a new international platform for sharing scientific knowledge that could outlast the present pandemic.
At a meeting wrap up Tuesday, diplomats and technical and legal experts from UNESCO'S member nations are trying to draw up new international guidelines below a project called Open Science.
UNESCO's pros say the pandemic has proven that sharing sensitive study is possible: Chinese scientists sequenced and shared the genome of their then-new coronavirus in January 2020, enabling German researchers to then quickly devise a screening evaluation shared around the globe.
"The catastrophe put a spotlight on how scientific advice is produced, shared, communicated," stated Ana Persic, chief of the science coverage department at Paris-based UNESCO. "It is a paradigm change for the scientific community"
The Open Science talks aim to think of a"soft law" at the end of this year that authorities could utilize as a guide for setting science policies and methodically sharing information, research and software across borders, Persic explained.
Suspending vaccine patents is significantly more sensitive than genomes or analyzing protocols due to the massive investment and industrial issues involved, Persic confessed. Discussions about the patent problem are centered at the World Trade Organization, not UNESCO, and they're far from attaining consensus.
European leaders say lifting patent protections will not address the problem of getting shots to the arms of people in poorer countries. Instead, they're pushing to get more immediate action, such as urging the U.S. to export vaccine doses that have already been produced.
However, Persic told The Associated Press that"in times of crisis or catastrophe, there may be a method of lifting those patents... You can shield the information in a specific way, and share it."
U.S. President Joe Biden's surprise announcement in favor of suspending patent protections came only at specialists began meeting at UNESCO to discuss the Open Science plan. Biden's movement was"was obtained as a positive nod" to their attempts, Persic said.
UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay said in a declaration that raising patent protection for coronavirus vaccines"could save countless lives and serve as a blueprint for the future of scientific cooperation. COVID-19 doesn't respect borders. No country will be safe before the people of each country have access to the embryo."