President Biden genuflected again to progressives on Wednesday by endorsing an intellectual property waiver at the World Trade Organization for Covid vaccines and therapies. This patent heist won’t end well for the U.S. or the world.
South Africa and India have been pushing a resolution at the WTO that would force pharmaceutical companies to hand over their Covid vaccine and therapy IP to manufacturers in low-income countries. The waiver is backed by some 100 other low-income countries, progressive groups and more than 100 Democratic Congress Members.
Waiver proponents say breaking patent protections is necessary to expand global access to vaccines. This is false. WTO rules already allow low-income countries to force drug makers to license their patents during emergencies, though they must negotiate some agreements with developers. Liberals says this is slowing vaccine production.
Yet U.S. and European drug companies have already voluntarily entered into dozens of licensing agreements with other manufacturers, many in low-income countries, as they work to scale up production. Merck last week announced licensing agreements with several Indian manufacturers to produce its investigational antiviral drug.
But vaccine and drug makers first need to ensure their partners can safely manufacture the complex biologic products. This takes time. So does ramping up production of raw ingredients. Even so, global vaccine production is accelerating. The U.S. has also committed $4 billion to Covax, a World Health Organization initiative, which aims to distribute two billion doses to lower- and middle-income countries by the end of this year. Yet India, a global vaccine production powerhouse, recently restricted exports to serve its own population.
European governments have opposed the waiver because they realize it sets a terrible precedent. Once stolen, IP on breakthrough innovations like Moderna and Pfizer -BioNTech mRNA vaccines can’t be returned. So why did Mr. Biden surrender?
Progressives are pounding the White House for supposedly hoarding vaccine doses, though only a few months ago it was praised for ordering more supply from Pfizer and Moderna. The White House recently agreed to release 60 million of its contracted AstraZeneca doses, but only after they receive FDA approval. Contracts with other manufacturers limit exports to countries without liability protection for potential adverse side effects.
The Administration’s WTO waiver will break patents and legal protections for vaccine makers. Investors will be less likely to fund new drug research if they think their own government will betray them under political pressure. Chalk up another damaging victory for the Congressional left.
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Journal Editorial Report: Paul Gigot interviews Dr. Marty Makary. Image: Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images
Appeared in the May 6, 2021, print edition.
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