Biden Administration Should Absolutely Reject Patent Waivers for COVID-19 Vaccines

The pharmaceutical industry is on track to supply enough doses to vaccinate 7 billion people this year.


Pressure is mounting on President Joe Biden to waive intellectual property rights protections for COVID-19 vaccines. A coalition of developing countries led by India and South Africa are pushing the World Trade Organization to suspend patent rights to the vaccines, arguing that doing so will enable them to get more shots to poor people across the globe. Progressives in the U.S., such as Senators Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) are arguing that suspending the patents is a moral imperative.

However, suspending patents is not a moral imperative, it's moral grandstanding and would do nothing to get the vaccines faster to the people who need them.

The World Health Organization lists fewer than 25 countries capable of manufacturing any vaccines whatsoever, much less the novel and highly complex COVID-19 vaccines.

"For the industry, this would be a terrible, terrible precedent," said Geoffrey Porges, an analyst for the investment bank SVB Leerink to The New York Times. "It would be intensively counterproductive, in the extreme, because what it would say to the industry is: 'Don't work on anything that we really care about, because if you do, we're just going to take it away from you.'"

Just lifting patent protection would do nothing to actually enable most poor countries to ramp up production of these vaccines, and it would discourage companies from continuing to make them now and in the future.

If all goes well, the vaccine makers are on track to supply enough COVID-19 vaccine to inoculate 7 billion people by the end of this year. It would be much more helpful for progressives to put aside their vendetta against the pharmaceutical companies and instead concentrate on figuring out the logistics of getting vaccines to people in poor countries.