Delaware Senator Chris Coons
Evelyn Hockstein – Pool via Cnp / Zuma Press
The progressives have opened an open door in the Biden Presidency and Democratic Congress, and bad politics ensue. So it is good to see that the Democratic Party is putting up at least some resistance to another destructive idea that is now advancing politically: the suspension of intellectual property for Covid vaccines at the World Trade Organization.
The opposition is Delaware Senator Chris Coons, who warned in a web conference Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that “IP rights are under attack from outside as well as from within.” He’s right. South Africa and India threw a grenade at the WTO last year on IP vaccine rights with a resolution that would allow low-income countries to break patents during the pandemic.
The resolution is supported by around 80 developing countries, nonprofits, and even Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Richard Blumenthal, and Raphael Warnock. They say abandoning IP protection is necessary to get vaccines to low-income countries and end the pandemic.
“If countries can produce locally, it will accelerate access to vaccines and treatments, prevent unnecessary deaths, accelerate global vaccination efforts, and enable stronger and faster economic recovery,” 10 Democratic senators wrote to President Biden last week.
This couldn’t be more misleading. Existing WTO rules allow low-income countries to force pharmaceutical companies to license their intellectual property for treatments and vaccines essential to public health during epidemics. However, Covid vaccines developed by Western companies are complicated biological products. Only giving vaccination prescriptions to low-income countries would raise serious safety concerns.
Because of this, vaccine developers have licensed their intellectual property to many manufacturers around the world, including India and South Africa, with agreements that ensure strict controls on production. However, accelerating the production of vaccines and their ingredients takes time. As Mr. Coons stated, “some of the barriers to scaling the manufacture and distribution of vaccines and therapeutics on the scale and timeline that the world needs are just that – barriers to manufacture and distribution.”
He added that “the willingness of key inventors and developers” of Covid vaccines and treatments to license, manufacture and distribute them “at cost or as a donation” suggests that “it is not about IP rights that really matter “. He added that “IP has enabled, if at all, historic licenses and partnerships” and has been “a facilitator of critical, innovative innovation”.
A breach of intellectual property protection would run the risk of “losing the investment and private sector development that are vital to this moment in personalized medicine, breakthrough vaccines and breakthrough medical diagnostics,” Coons warned. “And I think, frankly, I think the world would suffer.”
Once published, trade secrets about biologics are gone for good. Handover of China’s IP to the
and Moderna mRNA vaccines would allow him to recreate the technology for other diseases. India recently exposed its selfish motives by limiting exports from India
Vaccine for the own population.
Let’s hope this is an issue where Mr. Biden is ignoring the left and Mr. Coons is paying attention.
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Published in the print edition of April 24, 2021 as “Sen. Coons against the vaccine thieves. ‘