Vaccinating billions of people against the COVID-19 coronavirus scourge that continues to rage in South America and South Asia is an urgent matter for the rest of the world. While it appears that the more contagious and lethal B.1.1.7 and P.1 virus variants are blunted by current vaccines, every time the virus infects another person, it increases the risk that other new highly transmissible and deadly variants will emerge. So it is in everybody's interest to manufacture as many doses of the effective vaccines as quickly as possible and support the efforts to distribute them to poor people around the world. Anything that slows down manufacturing and distribution would be counterproductive for everyone.
The Biden administration has reportedly chosen, counterproductively, to cave to the demands of progressives at home and of a group of countries led by South Africa and India and waive the patent rights to the COVID-19 vaccines.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai released a statement declaring, "This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. 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."
Amusingly, Trade Representative Tai issued another statement just last week on the protection of intellectual property that actually explains why waiving patents, in this case, is a bad idea. "Intellectual property rights incentivize our creators, manufacturers, and innovators to invent new products and technologies," Tai said. "The laws, policies, and practices that protect those rights must appropriately balance the interests of creators with those seeking to use their creations. Failing to adequately and effectively protect those rights in foreign markets hurts the U.S. economy, the dynamism of American innovators, and the livelihoods of our workers."
The World Health Organization reports that fewer than 25 countries have the capacity to make any vaccines at all, much less the complicated new COVID-19 vaccines. Statista notes that only six countries are actually producing COVID-19 vaccines now (Russia has just made a deal with China to produce 260 million doses of its Sputnik V vaccine).
The Biden administration's progressive feel-good gesture will in fact discourage future investment and innovation and do nothing to speed COVID-19 vaccines to the people who need them.