What will it take to end the pandemic? A true return to normalcy includes international travel and the movement of people globally. But how do we do this safely? How do we get vaccines to poorer areas of the world? As BIO CEO Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath says in the latest episode of I am BIO, “Nobody is safe until everyone is safe.”
In her discussion of the topic, Dr. Michelle spoke with Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global vaccine procurement initiative. He believes this can be done by countries that are experiencing a surplus of vaccines sharing them with countries in need and by removing “trade and customs barriers which promotes the free flow of goods across borders to facilitate and expedite that vaccine production.”
The Biden Administration has supported a proposal by some members of the World Trade Organization– the TRIPS waiver – that would suspend Intellectual Property (IP)protections for vaccines to fight the pandemic. While this seems like a reasonable idea in theory, in practice it would be disastrous.
“No, we don't think that the proposed solution is any solution at all. First of all, intellectual property rights have not been the problem in getting vaccines sourced around the world. In fact, our companies, the ones located in the US and elsewhere, have already concluded over two hundred and fifty partnerships with other manufacturers around the world. So there is a lot of technology sharing already going on. And the best capacity around the world has already been identified and people have quickly arranged deals to get them up to speed and manufacturing vaccines. IP has not really been a barrier,” said BIO’s Deputy Chief of Policy and Chief of International Affairs Joe Damond.
Supporters of TRIPS argue that because the government invested money in these companies, they should have a say in granting waivers for IP protections. However, Damond points to the fact that the federal government has only recently put in a small portion of the funds required to scale these vaccines.
“The amount of private sector investment that went into that [vaccine development] dwarfs the amount of money that the U.S. government has put in in just the last year,” he said.
Brad Loncar, CEO of Loncar Investments, which invests in cancer therapies, says the waiver won’t improve the situation. “The thing that’s holding it back is these vaccines have been developed with groundbreaking, new technologies that companies have been working on for decades, and that expertise can’t be gained overnight. And so, even if you waive the IP protection for these things, you still have years of learning for a newcomer, to really understand how to develop and manufacture these things.”
Because the fact is, this pandemic most likely won’t be the last. And our solution can’t be removing IP protections that created these lifesaving vaccines in the first place.