It’s not clear whether the patents can easily be utilized by others. This could, however, chill research by drug companies, although they’ve certainly made plenty of money on the vaccines they successfully produced.
Covid-19 could be an ongoing struggle. The question here is whether this is a bad long-term strategy that will have only minimal short-term benefits.
According to the Wall Street Journal:
The U.S. said Wednesday it would support the temporary waiver of intellectual property provisions to allow developing nations to produce Covid-19 vaccines created by pharmaceutical companies, citing an urgent need to stem the pandemic.
Overriding objections from the pharmaceutical industry, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the U.S. would support a proposal working its way through the World Trade Organization. Such a policy would waive the IP rights of vaccine makers to potentially enable companies in developing countries and others to manufacture their own versions of Covid-19 vaccines.
“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,” Ms. Tai said in a statement.
Countries suffering from an explosion in new cases—including India and South Africa—have pushed for the waiver. In India, it was reported recently that less than 2% of the population had been vaccinated, and new Covid-19 cases are at record highs globally, as the pandemic rages unchecked in many poor and middle-income countries.
Pharmaceutical companies, however, oppose it, saying the waiver won’t provide the short-term results proponents think it will, partly because of the challenge of setting up complex new production facilities to manufacture the vaccines.
Ms. Tai also warned that the talks at the WTO to approve a waiver policy will take time, given the consensus-based nature of the group, but that the U.S. will actively participate in negotiations.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the drug industry’s main D.C.-based lobbying and trade group, said the Biden administration’s decision will weaken already-strained supply chains and spur counterfeit vaccines.
“This decision does nothing to address the real challenges to getting more shots in arms, including last-mile distribution and limited availability of raw materials,” PhRMA said in a statement.