U.S. Calls To Remove Patent Protection On Covid-19 Vaccine

May 12 03:52 2021 Print This Article

The US Waives Patent Restrictions

In a somewhat surprising move, the US government (including the Biden administration) made a controversial move to lift patent restrictions (and therefore intellectual property rights) to allow lower-income countries to manufacture and produce vaccines without fear of penalty from the US and other pharmaceutical companies. A proposal for such a move was first launched before the World Trade Organization (WTO) by India and South Africa last fall and includes all intellectual property, trade secrets, etc.

The move would ostensibly allow countries to export vaccines and make it easier for poorer countries to source vaccines. Indeed the fear among many at the moment is that poorer countries who do not have a seat at the negotiating table will not be able to get vaccines, thus making it that much harder to tackle what is a full-blown global pandemic crisis.

What the Experts are Saying

However, many experts have said that waving these restrictions in the short term will have little consequence on vaccine production and distribution. Even with the US agreeing to wave patent rights, the text of the negotiations will take some time, and meanwhile, COVID 19 will not take a break from mutating, and any formal agreement will take some time.

Prashant Yadav is an expert in supply chain management and is a senior fellow at the prestigious Center for Global Development. Yadav argues that while intellectual property rights can certainly be waved, we also lack raw materials, equipment, and other resources necessary to increase vaccine production.

Norman Taylor, a former senior member of the FDA and current president of Biologics Consulting, also points out that the required human capital to produce vaccines is currently lacking. As it stands right now, manufacturers are already having problems finding the right talent resources to deal with the current situation as it stands.

The head of Takeda Vaccines, Rajeev Venkayya, says that loosening or waiving any intellectual property rights will not solve current shortages in the industry. He argues that vaccine manufacturers have a looming crisis on their hands that could affect the production of all vaccines, not just the COVID19 vaccines.

Venkayya claims that while countries may have the right intentions to remove obstacles to vaccine production and trade, these same countries lack a full understanding of the complications and many intricacies of producing a vaccine.

Possible Effects of Waving Patent Restrictions

Many others, however, argue more forcefully for the patent waiver. Despite the waiver’s narrow scope, it would allow countries to grant compulsory licenses to allow third-party manufacturers to produce patented products by other manufacturers and give them information and insight into the overall production process. This would hopefully introduce an extra financial incentive for third-party manufacturers to invest in vaccine production.

Even experts that have expressed doubt in the removal of patent restrictions have tacitly admitted that it is still a valuable first step to helping shore up vaccine production for emerging economies in poorer countries that are really struggling.

However, that depends on which experts you are talking to. Those that are closely wedded to the big pharmaceutical giants argue that changes in the incentive structure for companies making vaccines would only serve to undermine the United States’ pioneering global biological research that resulted in the original COVID19 vaccine in the first place.

Those closely linked experts with the big pharmaceutical companies argue that opening up the doors to the removal of some intellectual property barriers could be like opening the floodgates to a damn with the resulting consequences spilling over to other areas of drug manufacturing that are not associates with vaccines.

Do Big Pharmaceutical Companies Have a Right to be Concerned Over Intellectual Property Rights

Evercore ISI equities analyst Umer Raffat says, however, that the big drug companies are likely overstating their case and that any consequence of loosening intellectual property rules would likely be strictly restricted to vaccines. He sights other production obstacles (that we mentioned above) as reasons other smaller companies would hesitate to try and compete with big pharma.

The WTO has long stated that the biggest obstacle to a full global recovery from the pandemic is the uneven recovery that would occur if poorer countries are left to fend for themselves. A waiver would be another step that would be part of other steps to even out the recovery process. The Biden administration and other interest groups have put much pressure on the government to take this stand on vaccine patents.

Another potential positive consequence of waiving intellectual property rights is that it might make other, more hesitant countries think longer and harder about the consequences of enforcing these rights while millions are still getting infected and dying from this disease. As it stands right now, The European Union, Switzerland, and Japan have all expressed opposition to waiving any vaccine patents. But as we all know, sometimes “so goes the US, so goes the rest of the world.”

Where do We Go from Here?

Whether you agree with waiving patent restrictions or not, it’s clear that increasing the production of life-saving vaccines globally is no small task. The biggest and most powerful countries in the world have already bought up over half the supply of vaccines as it stands. This does not leave a lot of supply for poorer countries.

Still, no matter what we do about Intellectual Property Rights, barriers to production and innovation exist, and they existed long before patents were ever waived. Meaningful action can’t come soon enough, however. Consider the following: The first proposal to waive patents was first introduced in October of 2020. Since that time, however, more than 2.2 million people have died globally.

So we can argue all we want about the effectiveness of waiving patents. We can argue even still about what language should be in the texts of any new agreements regarding Intellectual Property. Still, as we do so, we cannot forget that day by day, hour by hour, and minute by minute, this deadly and destructive disease continues to rage on.

Writer Nate Smith

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