Rich Countries Are Refusing to Waive IP Rights on COVID-19 Vaccines

Sam Meredith, CNBC:

Members of the World Trade Organization will meet virtually in Geneva, Switzerland on Thursday to hold informal talks on whether to temporarily waive intellectual property and patent rights on Covid vaccines and treatments.

The landmark proposal, which was jointly submitted by India and South Africa in October, has been backed by more than 100 mostly developing countries. It aims to facilitate the manufacture of treatments locally and boost the global vaccination campaign.

Six months on, the proposal continues to be stonewalled by a small number of governments — including the U.S., EU, U.K., Switzerland, Japan, Norway, Canada, Australia and Brazil.

These vaccines unquestionably ought to be in the public domain. As with the polio vaccine, huge sums of public funds were directed towards developing all of the major vaccines available in Canada, the United States, and across Europe. It is not like manufacturers will be unable to sell vaccines, but their formulas should not be proprietary.

Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson oppose this measure, with Pfizer saying that it has shared its formula with others to increase production capacity. And it is perhaps the case that production is to blame for the struggle to keep up with literal worldwide demand more than licensing issues. But we should not depend on the whims of companies deciding whether to share their formulas, for how long, and at what cost. These vaccines should not be part of an intellectual property portfolio — an asset for the investor class. They should not even be subject to a temporary waiver. These vaccines are necessary for the world to function and they must be freely available.