Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai held a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss increasing COVID-19 vaccine production, global health issues and the proposed waiver to certain provisions of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) related to the pandemic.
"Ambassador Tai emphasized that the Biden-Harris Administration’s top priority is saving lives and ending the pandemic, and she stressed her commitment to working on a coordinated global response to the COVID-19 pandemic," the USTR said in a statement. "The Ambassador and Mr. Gates agreed to maintain open lines of communication going forward."
Representatives for Gates did not immediately return FOX Business' request for comment.
The talks come as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has already committed over $1.7 billion to the global COVID-19 response, including supporting the delivery of COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines, particularly to developing countries.
Gates predicted on Sunday that the world could be completely back to normal by the end of 2022 but that the coronavirus will not be entirely eradicated by then.
Gates told Sky News that a major factor in his timetable is the speed at which vaccines are distributed. The former tech titan noted that wealthier nations, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, will reach "high vaccination levels" by this summer, which will "free up" more doses to developing countries. The billionaire expects doses to be available to the entire world in late 2021 and throughout 2022.
In addition to Gates, Tai has held discussions with top executives from drugmakers Pfizer and AstraZeneca.
Despite backing from over 100 developing nations, the India and South Africa-led effort to boost global production for COVID-19 vaccines through a proposed intellectual property waiver has so far been stonewalled by wealthier nations. Critics of the proposal argue waiving the WTO's agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property could reduce the safety of vaccines and pull essential resources away from existing areas looking to boost production.
According to Reuters, U.S. industry executives believe Tai may back the waiver after calling the gap for access to medicines between developed and developing countries "completely unacceptable." World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier this month that, in high-income countries, an average of about one in four people have received a vaccine, compared to one in 500 people in low-income countries.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that while no decision has been made on the waiver, it is among the options being considered by the Biden administration to aid in the vaccination production and supply effort.
"There are a lot of different ways to do that. Right now, that's one of the ways, but we have to assess what makes the most sense," Psaki said, adding U.S. officials were looking into whether it would be more effective than boosting existing vaccine manufacturing in the U.S.
According to Johns Hopkins University, over 1 billion vaccines have been administered to date, with over 248 million people who are fully vaccinated, or 3.27% of the global population. Of that total, over 234 million doses have been administered in the United States alone, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The World Health Organization will hold a meeting to discuss the issue further on Thursday.
Fox Business' Daniella Genovese contributed to this report