As vaccinations continue to roll out around the world we’ve heard plenty of complaints about how some countries are lagging far behind the wealthier nations where most of these vaccines were developed and are being produced. This has resulted in understandable requests for countries like the United States to more quickly begin sending more doses to those nations that are in need. Unfortunately, we’re cranking these vaccines out about as quickly as is physically possible already. One solution that’s been proposed is to allow other companies around the world to start producing their own using the scientific breakthroughs achieved by companies like Pfizer and Moderna, but that would run afoul of their patents and intellectual property rights. Never fear, socialists. President Joe Biden is endorsing a plan put forward by the World Health Organization to simply “pause” those patents and let other companies run with the ball. The American pharmaceutical companies are not fans of the idea, to say the least. (NBC News)
The Biden administration said Wednesday they would support waiving patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines, after weeks of pressure from the international community as India and other countries face brutal surges in virus cases.
“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,” Ambassador Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon announcing the administration’s position.
At National Review, David Harsanyi describes this proposal as exactly what it is.
Waiving intellectual property rights is flat-out state-sponsored theft. https://t.co/rzerz7utUA
— David Harsanyi (@davidharsanyi) May 6, 2021
As I already mentioned, the pharmaceutical industry isn’t exactly leaping with joy over this proposal.
“A waiver is the simple but the wrong answer to what is a complex problem,” said the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations. “Waiving patents of COVID-19 vaccines will not increase production nor provide practical solutions needed to battle this global health crisis.”
The industry also says an IP waiver will do more harm than good in the long run by reducing the incentives that push innovators to make tremendous leaps, as they did with the vaccines that have been churned out in a blistering, unprecedented speed to help fight COVID-19.
My first reaction upon hearing this news was to conclude that there will never again be another Operation Warp Speed if this plan goes through. The American companies in question responded to requests from the Trump administration and basically dropped everything else they were doing to burn the midnight oil and come up with viable vaccines, two of them with staggeringly high efficacy rates, and do so in an unimaginably short period of time. They received significant financial help from the government to do it, it’s true, but that was an agreement that our Congress made. Pfizer and Moderna, along with the others, put in this work with the understanding that they would be able to profit from their labors on the back end.
Besides, some of these companies are already taking unprecedented, generous steps to create more doses faster. Pfizer struck a deal with Novartis in January to allow them to begin producing the revolutionary vaccines. Moderna publicly pledged in December that they would not fully enforce their patents until the pandemic was under control and would work with other companies to maximize production.
And aren’t we already reaching the point where the demand for shipments of vaccines in the United States is slowing significantly? State and local vaccination pods are scaling back their orders for more doses and some are shutting down entirely. We must be getting close to the point where we are producing more doses than can be distributed at home and can begin shipping significant amounts overseas. But if your complaint is that we took care of our own people first before vaccinating the rest of the world, I don’t know what to tell you. Of course we did. That’s our government’s first responsibility.
Fortunately, this isn’t the sort of decision that Joe Biden can just make on his own via executive order. To take this step, a unanimous vote by the World Trade Organization would be required, and it doesn’t sound like all of the member countries are on board, or at least not yet. If the pharmaceutical companies hammer out deals with other manufacturers quickly enough, the problem may be largely solved before we resort to additional levels of socialism to address it.