In the fight to contain the epidemic around the world, the United States government supports the suspension of patents for Corona vaccines. US Trade Representative Catherine Tye said on Wednesday that the global scale of the pandemic calls for “exceptional measures”. The United States government firmly believes in protecting intellectual property. However, in the fight against the Corona crisis at the World Trade Organization (WTO), it will call for an exception to “end this epidemic.” US President Joe Biden supports the proposal.
“The government’s goal is to provide as many people as possible with safe and effective vaccines as quickly as possible,” Tai said. The Trade Representative also stressed that negotiations at the WTO could take time because “consensus” had to be reached and because of the “complexity” of the issue.
More than 100 WTO member countries want to suspend vaccine patents so that more companies in more countries can manufacture vaccines. Countries of origin important to the pharmaceutical industry, such as the United States, have so far blocked the project initiated by South Africa and India. Poor countries accuse industrialized nations of buying the current vaccine production and the impossibility of increasing production through patent protection.
Aid organizations, including MSF, have strongly called for the patents to be revoked. Diplomats from Switzerland, where there are large pharmaceutical companies in their country, refused to suspend the patents in March. They argued that everything possible was being done to boost production. Patents are essential for a fruitful collaboration between vaccine developers and manufacturers. The European Union, which also includes the big pharmaceutical companies, has called for more licensing agreements between developers and manufacturers.
WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, describes Biden’s support for the announcement on Twitter as a “monumental moment” in the fight against Covid-19.
More vaccine through licenses?
Pharmaceutical industry representatives argue that patent revocation does not automatically bring more vaccine. It said all the qualified manufacturers were already participating in licensed production. In addition, the production of mRNA vaccines is very complex. They also argue that many raw materials and equipment needed for production were missing to increase production. They noted that natural vaccine production is currently being doubled, leading to delivery bottlenecks.
Leading manufacturers, including Pfizer and Moderna, are already making big profits from their vaccines. Pharmaceutical manufacturers often argue that patents are necessary to refinance high research investments. After the announcement, Pfizer shares were initially 1.8 percent in the red, while Novavax’s shares were eight percent.