Biden’s support for seizing vaccine IP harms innovation

Yesterday, the Biden administration announced it would be supporting the efforts of countries like India and South Africa to suspend intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization using the TRIPS Waiver.

“The US supports the waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and we’ll actively participate in @WTO negotiations to make that happen,” tweeted U.S. Trade Ambassador Katherine Tai.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the global consumer advocacy group Consumer Choice Center, called the Biden admin’s move a “gross mistake.”

“By backing the seizing of intellectual property around innovative vaccines, the Biden administration is actively harming future innovation and certainty for biotechnology firms that use patents to fund their research and development, especially when the estimated cost of producing a COVID vaccine is near $1 billion.

“This would actively hurt patients who depend on innovative medicines and vaccines that don’t otherwise receive primary funding, including the world’s most vulnerable,” said Ossowski.

“The German firm BioNTech, which developed the first mRNA vaccine and partnered with Pfizer for distribution and testing, is originally an experimental cancer research firm and intends to use its profits to find the next cancer cure. Biden’s support for the patent waiver would undermine those efforts and more.

“What’s more, once the IP is released, there is no guarantee for the safety of vaccine production, both due to the specialized knowledge and equipment required to produce them and to store them properly for maximum efficiency. If doses are made by third-party suppliers relying on patented formulas and processes but without the specialization, this will increase the risks of botched vaccines and vulnerable people put at risk, which could lead to vaccine hesitancy throughout the world,” said Ossowski.

“Bad actors will have an easier time pushing black market products on the market. Fake vaccines will not just undermine the global vaccine drive but also put lives at risk and reduce trust in vaccines.

“If the United States wants to help vaccine low and middle-income countries suffering because of the pandemic, they should release all doses of AstraZeneca vaccine sitting in American warehouses, which the FDA has not yet approved, and begin exporting our vaccine surplus to the most hard-hit countries,” concluded Ossowski.

Read our similar article in the Financial Post.

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