Waiving COVID-19 Vaccine Patents: A Bad Idea and a Dangerous Precedent
The Biden Administration believes that suspending COVID-19 vaccine patents will expedite the swift development of high quality “cheap” versions of existing vaccines and hasten the pandemic’s end. This view is dangerously wrong. Vaccinating the world is essential, but temporarily waiving patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines (also known as “compulsory licensing”) will actually slow their availability to the developing world.
While providing no gain, compulsory licensing promises lots of pain. Waiving patent protection discourages cutting-edge research investments, which in turn produce breakthrough treatments not just for COVID-19, but for other diseases, like cancer. Weakening these protections would be anti-patient and counterproductive.
The reality is that, in order to save the world, we must all work together as partners. The remarkable speed with which we developed diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines to combat COVID-19 points to the need for more collaboration, not less. Patents are a foundational principle upon which that success rests.
While the policy of temporarily waiving patents seems fair and humanitarian, the devil is in the details. Such a policy will not result in a single citizen of the developing world getting vaccinated one minute sooner. In fact, the unintended consequences are the reverse. More confusion, lower quality, less transnational cooperation. A triple play of disastrous global proportions.
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