Thursday, May 06, 2021
Exposure to corona vaccines
Union struggles with Biden’s patent push
The US push to suspend vaccine patents sparked a broad debate. Many countries welcome the proposal, and the UN is enthusiastic. But there are also critical voices, for example from the Union parliamentary group or from research-based pharmaceutical companies.
More proponents have spoken out in the debate surrounding the temporary revocation of patents on coronavirus vaccines. But there were also critical voices. Union faction leader Ralph Brinkhaus reacted cautiously to such considerations. “Patent protection makes sense,” said the CDU politician to the broadcaster “Welt”. At the same time, however, he emphasized that an approach by US President Joe Biden was “absolutely correct”: It was necessary to consider how cheap the vaccine could be in emerging countries. “It is of no use if we vaccinate ourselves freely in Germany and the rest of the world is not vaccinated.”
The health policy spokeswoman for the Union parliamentary group, Karin Maag from the CDU, also advised against lifting patent protection. “I do not think that discussions for the lifting of patent protection for vaccines, as the EU is now striving for, would be expedient,” she told the “Handelsblatt”. The production of the vaccines is highly complex. It “makes no sense if these are manufactured by any company”. She is concerned “that the incentive for private companies to invest in vaccine research will be significantly lower,” said Maag. It would make more sense to discuss how the EU member states could, for example, adequately support the international corona vaccine initiative Covax.
Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller from the CSU also spoke out against the release of the patents. “If we were to achieve our goal of producing vaccines for everyone more quickly through the patent release alone, I would be for it,” he told the “Spiegel”. “But that’s not the case at the moment.” The patent alone is not enough, says Müller. It is also necessary to know how the vaccine is to be produced. “Just releasing one patent doesn’t mean you get a single additional vaccination box.”
Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn, on the other hand, was open to such plans. Support also came from other EU countries. The EU Commission made it clear that it was ready to talk about the proposal. The US government signaled on Wednesday that it would support the lifting of patent protection in order to be able to ramp up the production of corona vaccines internationally. The question of patent protection will also be a topic at the EU summit in Porto this weekend. The EU, Switzerland and other countries with a larger pharmaceutical industry have so far opposed the lifting of patent protection. The share prices of vaccine manufacturers such as Biontech, Moderna and Novavax suffered some significant price losses after the announcement by the USA.
Paris and Moscow agree
UN Secretary General António Guterres welcomed the US move. “It gives vaccine manufacturers the opportunity to share the knowledge and technology to enable the effective expansion of locally produced vaccines,” said the United Nations in New York. It must be ensured that the countries have all the necessary materials for the production of vaccines. “We all agree: none of us will be safe from the virus until we are all safe.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said in Paris that he was “absolutely in favor of abolishing intellectual property”. Vaccines should become a “global public good”. The first priority is to “donate cans” to developing countries and to develop vaccines “in partnership with poorer countries”. Russian President Vladimir Putin was in principle in favor of revoking the patents. “Russia would of course support such an approach,” he said in Moscow. He called on the Russian government to examine the possibility of suspending patent protection.
The German Association of Research-Based Drug Manufacturers (VFA) is critical of the initiative. “The consequences for the innovation cycle would be serious,” said VFA President Han Steutel to the “Handelsblatt”. His accusation: “Corona should be instrumentalized in order to grind patent protection for vaccines.” The manufacturers of mRNA vaccines alone have done more than ten years of preparatory work in order to be able to help the world now, said the association president. Patent releases would also be of no use to overcoming the pandemic. Nobody can pull up a production in less than six months. The patent release would therefore be “pure symbolism instead of help in times of need,” said the head of the association.