RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) -Brazilian pharmaceutical associations on Friday called for lawmakers to reject a bill that seeks to suspend COVID-19 vaccine patents, saying it could spark international retaliation and reduce medical supplies in Latin America’s biggest country.
Brazil’s Senate passed the proposal on Thursday night, sending it to the lower house for consideration.
The bill’s backers say the emergency measure is needed due to a shortage of shots and a grave outbreak in Brazil, where over 400,000 people have died from the virus.
The government of President Jair Bolsonaro has publicly opposed calls to suspend patent protections, arguing they could endanger talks with vaccine producers.
In a joint statement, five of Brazil’s leading pharmaceutical associations sided with his administration.
“The approval of a bill that allows for the weakening of intellectual property could lead to international retaliation and reduce the supply of pharmaceutical inputs,” it said. “We cannot support measures that could generate more instability and scenarios that may have irreversible consequences, in the short, medium and long term for Brazil.”
Brazil has signed vaccine supply deals with AstraZeneca, China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd, Pfizer Inc and Johnson & Johnson. AstraZeneca and Pfizer declined to comment, while Johnson & Johnson directed Reuters to the associations’ statement. Sinovac did not immediately respond.
A senior pharmaceutical executive in Brazil, who was involved in COVID-19 vaccine talks, said the bill was “very poorly thought through” and “sends a poor message.”
The executive, who asked to speak anonymously due to ongoing relationships with the government, said the legislation could especially hurt U.S. firms, which hampering Brasilia’s efforts to improve relations with Washington.
In a Friday statement on the bill, Brazil’s Health Ministry said the priority is to strengthen the country’s infrastructure to produce more vaccines domestically.
The presidential press office did not respond to a request for comment.
The legislation passed by the Senate would oblige patent holders to provide authorities with all the information needed to produce COVID-19 vaccines and medicines. Then, if the government were to call a state of emergency, they could be produced locally under a government-mandated arrangement.
It remains to be seen whether lower house lawmakers will pass the bill. It has not been included on the next week’s voting agenda, indicating Brazil lower house speaker Arthur Lira may want to further discuss the issue.
(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Additional reporting by Ricardo Brito and Maria Carolina MarcelloEditing by Brad Haynes and Aurora Ellis)