While the Biden administration’s support of a patent waiver on COVID-19 vaccines is a noble sentiment, the situation is far more complex and could result in long-term problems with innovation, …
While the Biden administration’s support of a patent waiver on COVID-19 vaccines is a noble sentiment, the situation is far more complex and could result in long-term problems with innovation, diplomacy and American interests around the world.
This should not be a partisan issue. We are all in agreement that getting more people vaccinated as soon as possible is critically important.
The patents, however, are not the biggest obstacle in the process. The COVID-19 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA technology that requires raw ingredients, safety procedures and a highly skilled manufacturing workforce. This is a complex and difficult process. In addition, many countries do not yet have the infrastructure to provide an effective distribution system for the vaccine.
We believe a solution path is clear. We need to support and continue to help expand existing manufacturing to ramp up vaccine supply and develop a skilled workforce and reliable distribution lines throughout the world.
Removing patent protections would offer no guarantees that other countries and companies, who would simply be handed the results of billions of dollars of research, would practice the stringent safety protocols essential to mass-producing the vaccines. Additionally, without a controlled and coordinated approach, the process and input products needed for production could become scarce and result in the opposite effect: limiting the ability of the original manufacturers to continue at their current production pace.
The removal of patent protection also would have long-term repercussions on innovation. Why would investors pour billions of dollars into drug research if they believe their commitment to public health will be undermined by their government?
We are not alone in this assessment. A litany of high-profile, influential organizations have decried waiving patent protections:
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, “Make no mistake: This move will undermine the global fight against COVID-19 and it will diminish our ability to prepare for and respond to the next pandemic.” The organization, the world’s largest business-advocacy organization, also urged the administration to “work with the business community to deliver on the President’s recent promise to make America the ‘arsenal of vaccines.’”
The National Association of Manufacturers, the largest manufacturing association in the United States, said, “Rather than rushing to suspend critical protections and standards, investing in even greater production capacity would result in expanded vaccine access. Pharmaceutical manufacturers continue to work around the clock to help the world get armed against COVID-19. We should do everything possible to build on that heroic work, not undermine the protections that make this innovation possible in the first place.”
The Biotechnology Innovation Organization, which advocates internationally for rapid biotech innovation that’s equitably harnessed for health, sustainability and justice, said the strategy was myopic. It was disappointed the “administration has chosen to support waiving critical protections for American ingenuity and to delay the equitable delivery of needed COVID-19 vaccines to people around the globe.”
Biopharmaceutical manufacturers have already proven, through international alliances, that they are committed to world health. We can continue to help the world as the Biden administration did by invoking the Defense Production Act to ramp up output. We also can help provide training for workers and help create an effective international distribution system to get the shots in arms as quickly as possible.
Removal of patent protection is ill-informed, compromises safety and stifles innovation. It will not solve the problem; rather, it will lead to more problems down the road.
Michael Oates is president and CEO of the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp.
Learn more at www.HVEDC.com.