Should Biden waive COVID vaccine patent protections?
- As of Friday, May 7, 2021, there have been 33.4 million coronavirus cases in the United States, with 594,247 reported deaths.
- There are currently three US COVID vaccines: Pfizer - BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. Both Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines and require two doses, while Johnson & Johnson is a viral vector vaccine in one dose.
- On Wednesday, May 5, President Biden announced his support of the World Trade Organization proposal to waive patent protections for COVID vaccines. Representatives said, “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”
- Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America rejected the idea because they believe it will “weaken” supply chains and encourage counterfeit vaccines.
- India is in the middle of a huge coronavirus surge with a daily record of 414,188 cases and 3,915 deaths per day on Friday.
- According to the United Nations, in high-income countries, one in four people have received the vaccine while low-income countries are at a rate of one in 500.
The very idea of patents is an outdated one, and at best, patents generally only serve to stifle creativity and innovation. In this case, the question is literally a matter of life and death, and the thought that we might prioritize the profits of pharmaceutical companies over so many human lives is utterly horrifying. As Mustaqeem de Gama, South Africa's World Trade Organization counselor, said, choosing not to waive COVID vaccine patent protections would have devastating consequences worldwide and 'not only on the level of the loss of human lives but also on the economic level.' NPR's Emma Bowman likened the situation to the fight with drugmakers during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the '90s, in which they 'eventually retreated' under Nelson Mandela's criticisms of profit-seeking at the cost of lives. It should also be considered that our world is increasingly interconnected, and putting an end to this pandemic worldwide is in our own best interests.
The Biden administration says their goal is to 'widely distribute supply to the global community as quickly and cost-effectively as possible,' and it was something he promised during his presidential campaign. Waiving patent protections would be a great step in that process. The pharmaceutical industry claims that such a move 'would backfire,' but as mentioned above, previous evidence suggests otherwise. Waiving these protections is not only the right thing to do, but it would help speed the process of getting vaccines to the world's population, which would benefit everyone.
Biden should not waive COVID vaccine patent protections. Waiving could jeopardize global safety, negatively impact the efficiency and effectiveness of existing vaccine manufacturers, and result in the production of generic vaccines not making a significant difference in curbing the COVID pandemic. A key concern about not limiting the COVID vaccine production to a private number of experienced manufacturers is that it could compromise the quality of the vaccine and therefore jeopardize global safety. Adding new manufacturing facilities to produce generic vaccines would also divert the raw materials and other resources needed by existing experienced manufacturers to efficiently and effectively boost quality vaccine production. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla confirmed these concerns of other critics when he commented, 'Entities with little or no experience in manufacturing vaccines are likely to chase the very raw materials we require to scale our production, putting the safety and security of all at risk.'
Beyond these key concerns of quality and safety is how motivated cutting-edge Biotech firms will be in the future to produce vaccines so quickly that require such a significant investment in development and production when their intellectual property rights can be so unfairly undercut. Critics remain doubtful that new manufacturers of generic vaccines could even be able to produce them quickly enough to make any real difference. While it seems humanitarian to open the gate to generic COVID vaccine production, the negative impact on global safety and the efficiency and effectiveness of experienced manufacturers is not worth the risk.