The demand to revoke a patent for a coronavirus vaccine after Joe Biden backed Putin’s initiative is gaining global proportions.
Negotiations to suspend the validity of coronavirus patents have dragged on hopelessly since last fall and were finally bogged down in disputes between 164 member countries of the World Trade Organization. But the ice was broken, as the most influential opponent of patent abolition – the United States – suddenly changed from anger to mercy.
It has only been a few hours since Biden made the announcement, and Europe has joined him. In her statement, the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “The European Union is also ready to discuss proposals for an effective and realistic solution to the crisis. That is why we are ready to discuss how the US proposal to remove the copyright for Covid-19 vaccines can help achieve these goals. ”
For his part, World Health Organization Director-General Tentros Antanom Ghebregesus called Joe Biden’s support “monumental”, adding that it is a model of leadership in tackling a global health problem.
According to US Trade Representative Catherine Tai. The temporary revocation of patent rights will allow developing countries to produce vaccines, notes The Wall Street Journal.
The US decision was made against the backdrop of an increase in the number of recorded COVID-19 infections in the world. The US administration is trying to help provide vaccines to as many people as possible, Tai said. The US agreement to the suspension of patents was also facilitated by the fact that the country was able to provide itself with a sufficient amount of the drug for vaccination against COVID-19. As of May 8, 45% of Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine. This is the fourth largest figure after Israel (62.6%), Great Britain (51.5%) and Bahrain (45.4%).
As of May 8, the average increase in the incidence over seven days is almost 102 per 1 million people and remains at a record high since the beginning of the pandemic, although it has decreased compared to the end of April, follows from the data of the statistical portal Our World in Data. In total, according to Johns Hopkins University, more than 157.639 million people have become infected in the world, over 3.28 million have died. The leader in the number of confirmed cases is the United States, where 33.419 million infected were detected. In second place is India (21.892 million), in third – Brazil (15.087 million), in fourth – France (5.747 million), in fifth – Turkey (4.99 million), which bypassed Russia (4.871 million).
Who is asking for patents to be revoked and why?
South Africa and India were the first to ask for cancellations in October 2020, and since then they have been supported by about half of the WTO members, mostly from developing countries.
The number of supporters of lifting patent restrictions on drugs is growing. Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova to work out the issue. “Safety can only be ensured if vaccines are used in the vast majority of countries in the world. Then the population immunity in the broadest sense of the word will be developed, ”Putin said. Russia has already transferred the technology for the production of vaccines against coronavirus to Belarus and Argentina.
According to CNBC, citing its own sources, prior to its decision, the Biden administration held consultations with leading vaccine manufacturers. The source also indicated that the administration understands that the implementation of the proposal to suspend the vaccine patents may take time, since it must be supported by all 164 member states of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Earlier, the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as more than 100 WTO member countries, called on to suspend the vaccine patent.
Some hope that there will be more vaccines and that they will finally receive them. Others – for example, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan – are ready to organize the production of vaccines themselves, provide for themselves and earn money on exports.
Both Médecins Sans Frontières and the World Health Organization have advocated open, shared access to all technologies to combat covid. The head of WHO did not hide his joy about the change in the position of the United States.
“I welcome the United States decision. It is of historic importance in ensuring the well-being and equal access to vaccines for all people around the world, without exception, during this difficult time,” said Tedros Adanom Ghebreyesus.
A patent protects intellectual property and temporarily protects inventors from competitors who have not spent on research and development of technology, but are ready to immediately use it and earn money. Thanks to this protection, pharmaceutical companies, for the duration of the patent, receive the exclusive right to release the drug and determine with whom and under what conditions to share secrets and, accordingly, profits.
Will this help end the pandemic?
Most of the patents for vaccines and manufacturing capacity are concentrated in wealthy countries. Until they vaccinate their own, the rest can wait and hope for their own developments (as in India, Russia and China) and the supply of Chinese or Russian vaccines. Therefore, they ask to share, if not the vaccine, then the technology.
According to epidemiologists, including the American Anthony Fauci, more than 70% of the population needs to be vaccinated to defeat the pandemic. The current pace is poor.
In the world done there are already over 1.2 billion vaccinations, and pharmaceutical companies promise to produce 10 billion doses of vaccines by the end of the year. However, 40% of vaccinations went to 11% of the world’s population in 27 rich countries, while countries with 11% of the poorest population accounted for only 1.6%.
I.e the rich tithe of humanity is vaccinated 25 times faster than the poorest, Bloomberg calculated. At this rate, some developed countries will reach the cherished level of 70% in August, and for most of the poor countries it will take another three years.
Who is against the abolition of patents and why?
Pharmaceutical companies, first of all. Those who invent and sell drugs are accustomed to patent protection and are very unhappy with the prospect of losing it, albeit for a while.
“People cannot be saved by such a turn in the established American policy,” the American Association of Drug Manufacturers and Developers PhRMA told the Biden administration.This empty promise will not remove major barriers to vaccination, first of all, the lack of raw materials for the production of vaccines and the difficulties with the organization of the vaccination campaign in the field. “
The international federation IFPMA spoke in the same spirit, calling the US position disappointing and misguided attempt to find a simple solution to a complex problem…
The plans of the pharmaceutical companies to make money on the patented vaccine turned out to be a big question, as a result of which the developers’ business fell sharply – their shares collapsed on the stock exchanges immediately after the White House was announced.
In addition to losing the expected super-profit, the suspension of the patent threatens to deprive them even of the opportunity to earn at least something from their own invention, as other companies will be able to compete for components to produce the vaccine, which are already in short supply.
In other words, pharmacists might have come to terms with the fact that, besides them, someone else would make a vaccine according to their formula until the coronavirus was defeated, but in conditions of a shortage of components, they risk getting unexpected competitors in the fight not only for the client, but also for raw materials. , without which they themselves will have nothing to sell.
However, skeptics have their own point of view: pharmaceutical companies will still get their money, since it is impossible to produce a high-tech vaccine on their knees or at home. This means that all talk about the loss of profits can be called in other words – a slight decrease in profits in exchange for a sharp improvement in public opinion, which has recently become rather negative towards many pharmaceutical companies, primarily to the infamous AstraZeneca…
However, Germany and Britain, owners of AstraZeneca and BioNTech patents, take into account the concerns of pharmaceutical manufacturers. Generics are usually cheaper, but also worse than the originals, and most importantly, the developer spends billions of dollars to bring a new drug to the market. These investments must be protected.
In an interview with the FT, Angela Merkel noted that the inviolability of intellectual property is a source of innovation, and the German Foreign Minister suggested not multiplying the number of manufacturing firms, but expanding the capabilities of those that already exist.
“At the moment, we are talking, first of all, about the expansion of existing production sites. About their expansion, about improving supply chains, so that more people benefit from vaccines,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.
Currently, there are two main reasons for the shortage of vaccines: lack of production lines and interruptions in the supply of raw materials. The abolition of patents may partially solve the first problem, but will clearly intensify competition in the market for starting materials. And this will require a separate solution. In general, in the first ten days of July, the WTO is going to discuss a moratorium on patents from all sides, although this subject is hardly possible to effectively subject a thought experiment.
Why did the US change its mind?
For two main reasons, domestic and foreign.
On the one hand, the vaccination campaign in the United States is losing momentum: everyone who wanted to have already been vaccinated, those who remained are lured with baseball tickets, beer and money. There is no shortage of vaccine, and the voices of advocates for equality and global health are growing louder.
Especially now, when one of the initiators of the abolition of patents – India – is experiencing catastrophic wave of pandemic…
On the other hand, Biden is actively returning the United States to the world stage after four years of pupation under the slogan “America First”, during which his predecessor Donald Trump managed to sabotage the work of both the WTO and the WHO.
Biden has a different slogan: “America is back.” He canceled his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, stopped protecting American Internet giants from taxes in other countries, and now he has set out to resolve the dispute over vaccine patents at the WTO, despite the objections of the big pharmaceutical business. And such a broad gesture as the abolition of patents will undoubtedly be used 100% by the US propaganda machine, even if this idea does not pass.