U.S. Supports Waiving Vaccine Patents

United States president Joe Biden voiced his support for temporarily waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines on May 5, 2021, according to Reuters. This represents a reversal of the U.S.’s previous stance on vaccine patent wavers as the Biden administration gave in to mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers and over 100 other countries. Katherine Tai, the Biden administration’s top trade negotiator, said in a statement that “this is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.” Tai also said that the U.S. would now begin negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to try and secure the waiver but emphasized that these talks could take time.

Advocates for the waiving of vaccine patents have argued that this move would increase global vaccine production and help to implement widespread vaccinations across the globe by allowing recipes for creating the vaccines to be shared. Waiving intellectual property rights would also make vaccines more affordable for less wealthy countries, according to the BBC. A total of 100 countries out of the WTO’s 164 member states have voiced their support for vaccine patent waivers, with South Africa and India being the leading advocates.

Biden’s decision to back waivers of vaccine patents comes as India experiences a devastating coronavirus spike, with the country’s cases amounting to 46% of the new COVID-19 cases reported worldwide in the week prior. These large outbreaks in India are tragically resulting in thousands of deaths per day, and have sparked concerns over the possibility of an emergence of new variants of the virus which could potentially be resistant to vaccines.

Critics of vaccine patent waivers include pharmaceutical corporations and vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna, who argue that waiving intellectual property rights would remove financial incentives and rewards for vaccine manufacturing companies. As reported by CNBC, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said that waiving patent protections would trigger a worldwide race for the raw materials needed to produce the vaccine and undermine efforts to safely and efficiently manufacture vaccines.

The Biden administration’s decision to support the temporary waiver of vaccine patents is the right decision. The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in immense global suffering and death over the last year, and it is imperative that life-saving vaccines are produced and distributed to populations all across the world expeditiously. The quicker that vaccines can be produced and provided to global populations—especially populations like India’s, where deadly spikes in COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to rise—the quicker the pandemic can come to an end and lives can be saved. No one is safe from coronavirus until everyone is safe from coronavirus, and so long as the virus spreads throughout the world the threat of an emergence vaccine-resistant variants of the virus remains. It is the responsibility of countries like the U.S., which is home to many vaccine manufacturing pharmaceutical companies, to help in distributing vaccines to other nations across the globe. The financial success of pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer is not as important as saving human lives and working to end the pandemic as quickly as possible. The U.S. should continue to step up and extend its resources in order to help vaccinate the rest of the world.

Tess Gellert