IP protection is the best solution for the COVID vaccine rollout

On Behalf of | Jan 26, 2022 | International Intellectual Property Protection, International IP protection |

After more than a year after the initial rollout, COVID-19 vaccines are available to all American adults and children five and older. But, with just half the global population fully vaccinated, many countries worldwide do not have the same access to these life-saving drugs, nor do they have the innovation or ability to manufacture vaccines.

Some, including the World Trade Organization, argue that it makes more sense (or if we actually have an obligation) to share the patents and trade secrets that go into making these wonder drugs. Theoretically, this could boost manufacturing and vaccination rates, but the reality is quite different.

The benefits of protecting the IP

Waiving the IP law protections could jeopardize the drug companies’ innovation, including modifications as newer variants emerge. Some advocates for not removing the protections argue that sharing this information could hurt rather than help the world’s pandemic response.

IP enables investment and innovation

The vaccines and manufacturing techniques result from decades of research and development by the drug industry, 75% of which comes from the private sector. This knowledge and experience enabled companies and researchers to move so quickly to develop COVID vaccines. If the vaccines are no longer valuable, businesses will be less motivated to update or improve products with no IP protection.

Partnership rather than competition

IP laws do not prevent others from using information or technology. Instead, it encourages people to work together using contractual partnerships: So far, there are more than 300 agreements for manufacturing and distributing vaccines and COVID technology.

Harm to the system

The IP system in the United States created a partnership between the private sector, university research and the federal agencies to achieve the remarkable success of several COVID vaccines. The template for this successful arrangement was well-established IP laws, providing ground rules for all parties involved.

Focus on distribution

Offering an IP waiver could also impact the systems of distribution that are already in place. Admittedly, there are bottlenecks and distribution issues, like transportation and training, but solving these problems makes more sense than starting with a new system focused on sharing the information.

Give away the doses, not the IP

Some experts argue that it is simply not effective in this case to give away the IP. The fact is that nearly every country but China or Russia cannot manufacture these extremely complex drugs at the number of doses needed. While a facility in South Africa is attempting to provide doses to the continent, it is unrealistic to expect countries without state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities to start manufacturing vaccines.

Even India, which focused on the AstraZeneca vaccine, ran into problems scaling its COVID vaccine production despite being a global leader in drug manufacturing. Getting a program up and running would take at least a year, which is a problem in a country with over 1.3 billion people and a relatively low vaccine rate.

Keep eyes on the prize

The goal here is to rid the world of COVID-19. The solution for accomplishing this is already in front of us. Rather than worrying about reinventing the wheel (or creating an IP waiver), we are better off working together to beat this virus with our existing tools. This solution balances the short-term needs of the people who need vaccinations and long-term protections for the companies that develop and manufacture vaccines.

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