Wednesday 05 May 2021
Distribute vaccines faster
USA want to suspend patents for corona vaccines
So far, manufacturers, but also their countries, have been resisting the release of patents on corona vaccines. However, the US government now wants to suspend this in order to be able to distribute the vaccine as quickly as possible. However, this process could take a long time.
In the fight to contain the pandemic worldwide, the US government supports the suspension of patents for the corona vaccines. The US stands behind the protection of intellectual property, but the pandemic is a global crisis that requires extraordinary steps, said US trade representative Katherine Tai.
The goal is “to get as many safe and effective vaccinations as possible to as many people as possible as quickly as possible,” said Tai. The USA would work within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to draw up a corresponding agreement. Because of the consensus principle of the WTO and the complexity of the matter, this could be time-consuming, she warned.
As the world’s largest economy, the United States has a key role to play in the negotiations. In addition, through the NIH research institute, the US government holds the rights to an invention that is considered a prerequisite for modern mRNA vaccines from the manufacturers Moderna and Biontech / Pfizer.
Allegations against industrialized countries
More than 100 WTO member countries want to suspend the patents for the vaccines so that more companies in more countries can manufacture vaccines. Important countries of origin of the pharmaceutical industry such as the USA have so far blocked the project initiated by South Africa and India. Poor states accuse the industrialized countries of having bought up the existing vaccine production and of making it impossible to increase production by protecting patents. The US government’s shift in course is unlikely to lead to more globally available vaccines in the short term. Should the WTO agree to suspend the patents, this should significantly boost long-term production.
The trade representative Tai also said that the US government will now that the supply of its own population is guaranteed, continue to work in cooperation with the companies to boost production. We will “also work on increasing the production of the raw materials necessary for the manufacture of the vaccines,” she said.
Specifically, the dispute at the WTO in Geneva concerns the agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights (TRIPS agreement). With these and other agreements, the WTO wants to regulate free trade in an orderly manner. Aid organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, vehemently called for the patents to be revoked.
Manufacturers argue with development costs
Diplomats from Switzerland, where large pharmaceutical companies are at home, had refused to suspend the patents in March. They argued that everything possible was being done to boost production. The patents are necessary for a fruitful cooperation between vaccine developers and manufacturers. The EU, in turn, which also includes large pharmaceutical companies, advocated more license agreements between developers and manufacturers.
Representatives of the pharmaceutical industry argue that the revocation of the patents does not automatically bring more vaccine. All qualified manufacturers are already involved in production with licenses, it said. In addition, the production of mRNA vaccines is very complex. They also argue that many raw materials and equipment that are necessary for production were missing to crank up production. They pointed out that a multiple of the normal vaccine production is currently taking place, which is leading to delivery bottlenecks.
The leading manufacturers, including Pfizer and Moderna, are already making big profits with their vaccines. Pharmaceutical manufacturers usually argue that patents are necessary to refinance high research investments.
Recently, Biontech boss Ugur Sahin did not consider a waiver of intellectual property rights to be the right way to increase the production of Covid-19 vaccines. “That’s not a solution,” he said. Biontech relies on close cooperation with selected partners, since its vaccine is difficult to manufacture. “There are ways we are considering granting special licenses to competent manufacturers.” That ensures the quality of the vaccine. Production by licensees could, however, make a contribution towards the end of the year at the earliest.