We Must Suspend Vaccine Patents


Joy Herrera, Staff Writer

The U.S. is reaching the next stage of COVID-19. With the widespread distribution of the vaccines, most parts of the country are aiming to reopen completely within the next few months. However, this is not the case in the rest of the world. Many wealthy nations, including the U.S., have engaged in vaccine hoarding. Because of this, smaller and less wealthy nations are put into a position where vaccines are inaccessible even as the virus ravages their populations.

On May 6, the Biden Administration finally made the move that many have been pushing for and put their support behind, waiving intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines. The support of the U.S. is instrumental in waiving vaccine patents as the World Trade Organization (WTO) must come to an unanimous agreement to alter international intellectual property rules. Currently, the United Kingdom and the European Union stand in the way of releasing intellectual property rights and potentially saving the lives of thousands of people. 

Their concerns range from not wanting to set a precedent of suspending intellectual property rules to concern over countries producing substandard vaccines or harming chains of distribution of ingredients. However, many medical experts are of the belief that these concerns are not necessarily pertinent to the main issue of vaccine disparity. Due to monetary concerns, developing countries are left in the dust with a lack of accessibility for the vaccine. 

“I always respect the needs of the companies to protect their interests to keep them in business, but we can’t do it completely at the expense of not allowing a vaccine that’s lifesaving to get to the people that need it. You can’t have people throughout the world dying because they don’t have access to a product that rich people have access to,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci according to The New York Times.

The U.S. has had a difficult time with coronavirus in large part due to difficulties coordinating a consistent lockdown procedure across the country. This has led to the rampant spread of COVID-19, yet, the U.S. was able to recover due to monetary resources. After the initial panic, vaccine development began in earnest with many of the biggest coronavirus vaccine producers being in the U.S., including companies like Johnson and Johnson and Moderna. Resources like medical equipment and personal protective equipment for medical professionals are now for the most part readily available. 

However, other countries simply do not have means to outbid places like the U.S. for necessary supplies even when they have a greater need. India alone accounted for 46% of new coronavirus cases, and its medical system is overwhelmed by the cases. Places with high density populations are struggling, and places that supply materials for the vaccine are sometimes unable to access the doses. 

Pharmaceutical companies have successfully lobbied for atrocious things in the U.S., up to and including raising the prices of life-saving medicines to ridiculously high prices even when those same medicines were developed with public funding. One of the main concerns for pharmaceutical companies that are lobbying against lifting the IP protections is a loss of profits. However, in the long run this will not overly impact companies like Pfizer who are already not supporting markets in South America and Asia which would most benefit from being able to produce their own vaccines.

It is clear to me that lives should come before profits, and with all hope, the U.S. will be able to lobby the WTO to suspend international patents.


Photo courtesy of INDEPENDANT.CO.UK