Editorial: Say no to COVID vaccine patent waivers | Editorials
The Biden administration has said it will agree to waive patent protection for COVID-19 drugs in order to accelerate the global recovery from the pandemic. It sounds like a noble gesture, but the welfare decision could cause more harm than good and should be overturned.
There are a number of major issues with waiving patent protection for these drugs and few real benefits.
The waiver could end up costing not the U.S. government, but investors in companies that make not only vaccines but also other drugs used to treat the disease. And that, in turn, could slow the development of new drugs. It would be a sad repayment of the debt we all owe to companies that have risked billions to develop vaccines at unprecedented speed. Yes, the government pre-ordered hundreds of millions of doses to reduce financial risk, but they haven’t eliminated them.
The exemption would go well beyond vaccine patents and cover patents on products and processes used by major vaccine manufacturers. As observed by the American Action Forum, foreign generics manufacturers could use the waiver to circumvent protection for many treatments that are also used to fight other diseases.
It is important to note that patents on the COVID-19 vaccine are not the main obstacle to meeting international needs. The main problem, according to White House chief of staff Ron Klain, is production capacity. Knowing how to make effective doses of vaccines requires highly specialized knowledge and equipment.
One example tells the story. Last fall, Moderna announced that it would be relinquishing its patents on its COVID-19 vaccine. More than 6 months later, no generic drug manufacturer has come forward to take advantage of this generous initiative.
In addition to the complexity of manufacturing the vaccine, there is a global shortage of the necessary raw materials. Relinquishing the patents of all vaccine manufacturers will not solve any of the major hurdles.
Waiving US patents would simply make a good impression in much of the developing world without addressing the real issue. It would also put unwanted pressure on a number of other countries with significant intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines, including Switzerland and such important allies as Britain, the European Union and Japan. The waiver decision does not appear to have been coordinated with these countries.
Experts say what is really needed is a determined and government-funded effort by vaccine producers to make manufacturing technology widely available online, backed by government spending to build vaccine manufacturing capacity. and help solve problems in the manufacture of vaccines, and for distribution among the world’s poor.
It would be much more efficient than giving up intellectual property rights. Mr Biden should launch an international initiative to achieve these goals rather than removing intellectual property rights from companies.