The Biden administration has surprisingly stated that they will advocate for a COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver. Given the “extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic” the administration plans to advocate for waiving vaccine patent protections. This comes at a time when case numbers are falling in the US but rapidly increasing in other countries like India. The proposal to waive patent protections was drafted by India and South Africa and was backed by many congressional Democrats. According to the US trade representative Katherine Tai, “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines.” Apparently, this news meant that shares for Pfizer and Moderna are plummeting in an all too predictable fashion.
This news is both surprising and unsurprising to me. Surprising because I wouldn’t expect the US, a country run on a fundamentally capitalist system, to ever support something like this. This country was built upon privatization and profit-driven systems, often without care or concern for the ethics of money making. Vaccine distribution thus far has just been another example of this- even though the vaccines have been developed at a speed unknown to mankind and the power of science could not be more evident at a time when humanity needs it most, the distribution of the vaccine has been so limited because of the inefficiency and cruelty that a capitalist system brings. I’m unsurprised, however, because this backing of the waiving of vaccine patents should have been done long ago. This action to waive intellectual property rights could greatly bolster production and distribution of vaccines, especially to areas where vaccination rates are really low like countries that are poor and under-resourced. If this had been done before vaccines had even come out, perhaps the US could have been vaccinated much faster, and perhaps other countries around the world would have experienced a much more equitable distribution of vaccine supplies.