By Trevor Hunnicutt
ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE, May 6 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden made the decision to back a proposed waiver for COVID-19 vaccine intellectual property rights, the White House said on Thursday, denying that administration officials had been split on the issue.
"He made this decision," White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said, told reporters aboard Air Force One. She said the issue was discussed among administration officials, with input from experts, before options were presented to the president, and he took the final decision.
Asked if Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and other officials opposed the waiver, which has been widely criticized by U.S. pharmaceutical companies, Jean-Pierre said: "There was no split in this decision."
Biden, under mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers and over 100 countries, on Wednesday reversed the previous U.S. position and threw his support behind negotiating a waiver of some World Trade Organization protections for intellectual property rights to help poorer countries battle the pandemic.
Jean-Pierre noted that Biden had supported such a move as a candidate during the 2020 presidential election and saw it as an important humanitarian issue.
"We need to lead on this issue and help save lives," she said, adding that enacting a waiver would take time because it involved working through a negotiating process at the WTO.
Jean-Pierre said the administration had been working closely with pharmaceutical companies and would continue those efforts to "make the life-saving benefits available to most people." (Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; writing by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)