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From a Shot in the Arm to a Shot in the Foot — Biden’s Vaccine Blunder
Andrew Stuttaford
May 8, 2021·25 min read
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Just in case its tax plans were not evidence enough that the Biden administration has little understanding of the value of incentives, its proposal that intellectual-property protections should be waived in the case of COVID-19 vaccines bolstered the message that no economically productive deed should go unpunished.
The New York Times provided some background:
The United States had been a major holdout at the World Trade Organization over a proposal to suspend some of the world economic body’s intellectual property protections, which could allow drugmakers across the globe access to the closely guarded trade secrets of how the viable vaccines have been made. But President Biden had come under increasing pressure to throw his support behind the proposal, drafted by India and South Africa and backed by many congressional Democrats.
Scroll a little further down to see that wicked Uncle Sam had not exactly been alone in taking this position:
Support from the White House is not a guarantee that a waiver will be adopted. The European Union has also been standing in the way, and changes to international intellectual property rules require unanimous agreement. Ms. Tai said the United States would participate in negotiations at the World Trade Organization over the matter, but that they would “take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.”
And speaking of the EU, here (via The Guardian) are some arguments from Germany:
Angela Merkel’s government came out against a waiver on Thursday.
“The US suggestion for the lifting of patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines has significant implications for vaccine production as a whole,” a government spokeswoman said.
“The limiting factors in the production of vaccines are the production capacities and the high-quality standards and not patents,” she added, arguing that the companies were already working with partners to boost manufacturing capacity.
“The protection of intellectual property is a source of innovation and must remain so in the future.”
Just because these comments are coming from Angela Merkel’s government doesn’t mean that they are incorrect.
Return to the New York Times and scroll even further down to see that the U.K. is also listed among “other opponents” of the idea.
But Elizabeth Warren, predictably, was thrilled by the announcement, and, of course, didn’t waste the opportunity to talk about “billions.”
The news came in the middle of a Yahoo Finance interview with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
“Fantastic!” she said upon learning the news, raising her hands in the air in a double fist pump. . . . “I’m delighted.”
Shares of COVID-19 vaccine makers Moderna (MRNA), and BioNTech (BNTX) were down by as much as 8% and 6%, respectively, in morning trading on Thursday.
Asked earlier in the interview about a potential patent waiver, Warren said that “this is not a time to be protecting the multi-billions of dollars in profits for these companies.”
Well, if we’re talking time and billions, as Tom Chivers noted in the Post, there is also an October 2020 presentation by Michael Kremer, a Nobel Prize–winning economist, in which Kremer noted that the World Bank had estimated a $12 trillion loss in 2020–2021 because of COVID-19, implying a roughly $500 billion “gain from accelerating vaccine development by one month,” and that was before factoring in “mortality and health losses.”