Would you get rid of COVID-19 vaccine patents?

COVID-19 vaccines

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.


What are some arguments for a waiver?

It's the humane thing to do. To date, only 0.2 percent of all COVID vaccine doses have been administered in low-income countries. The virus is still spreading like wildfire in many places, and hospitalization and deaths are soaring in countries like India and Brazil. Relaxing rules on patents would mean more people would get vaccinated more quickly, saving scores of lives. The cost-benefit analysis is simple, argue advocates of waivers to IP rights like US Senator Bernie Sanders.

The economics of it all. In order for the global economy to return to sustained growth, equitable access to vaccines is crucial. Patents only serve the specific commercial interests of big pharma companies (Pfizer is making a 25-30 percent profit off its vaccine sales, making it one of the most "lucrative drugs" in the world.) The global economic bounce-back is dependent on a speedy global vaccination drive, and relaxing IP rules will fuel a surge in production.

Empowering lower-income states. Without a waiver, poorer countries will remain at the mercy of the US, the UK and the EU, which is itself mired in a complicated vaccine fiasco. Dependency on the "charity" of wealthy countries — and their multi-billionaire pharma industries — that could take years to deliver, is not a sustainable solution as countries race to prevent the spread of new more contagious variants. (Consider that Africa currently imports 99 percent of its vaccines for a population of 1.3 billion.)

What are some arguments against a waiver?

It would discourage innovation. Waiving IP rules for COVID-19 vaccines will disincentivize big pharmaceutical companies from investing time and money in complicated research and development required to produce safe and effective drugs. Taking away such a massive incentive for innovation would stunt developments needed to address future pressing health crises.

Quality control. Unlike medications, which are basic compounds that can be easily reproduced by trained chemists, new age vaccines are complicated biologics that use basic ingredients (sugar, gelatin, proteins) as well as modified viruses (viral vectors) and genetic technology (mRNA). To safely and effectively copy a vaccine, manufacturers need to have access to and understand the formula, and need the originator's full assistance to get such a complex operation off the ground. Failure to ensure this by hastily lifting IP rights could result in millions of potentially unsafe doses at a time when vaccine hesitancy remains high in many countries. Amid recent negotiations with Pfizer, the Australian government said that setting up the required tech to safely produce Pfizer's (mRNA) vaccine locally would take at least one year.

Think outside the box. Removing IP protections is not the only — nor the best — way to address the problem. One vaccine specialist has suggested that companies should license their IP rights to third parties in a "technology transfer" arrangement, resulting in more companies manufacturing doses (this could also happen through rich countries investing in infrastructure). Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the new WTO chief who has lobbied against "vaccine nationalism," has pointed to the licensing deal between UK-based AstraZeneca and India's Serum Institute as a model. Partnerships are also happening in the US, where the Biden administration brokered a deal between Merck and Johnson & Johnson, rival pharmaceutical companies, to boost production.

An abstract image of a brain with high tech neural connections. Get the latest from Microsoft on the most pressing policy issues.

Visit Microsoft On the Issues for a front-row seat to see how Microsoft is thinking about the future of sustainability, accessibility, cybersecurity and more. Check back regularly to watch videos, and read blogs and feature stories to see how Microsoft is approaching the issues that matter most. For the latest, visit Microsoft On the Issues.

U.S. President Joe Biden is seen in a White House handout photo as he speaks with European leaders about Russia and the situation in Ukraine during a secure video teleconference from the Situation Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2022.

Western powers claim that they present a united front against the Kremlin’s current threats in Ukraine. But clearly there are reasons for doubt. President Joe Biden provided more last week when he appeared to question whether NATO would in fact act with “total unity” if Vladimir Putin orders Russian troops across the Ukrainian border.

Do Western allies really agree on a common approach to keeping Russia out of Ukraine? What are the major points of contention among them?

More Show less
Beating China at AI | GZERO World

The US and China compete on many fronts, and one of them is artificial intelligence.

But China has a different set of values, which former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is not a big fan of — especially when those values shape the AI on apps his children use.

"You may not care where your kids are, and TikTok may know where your teenagers are, and that may not bother you," he says. "But you certainly don't want them to be affected by algorithms that are inspired by the Chinese and not by Western values."

More Show less
Russia & China vs “the West”

Russian President Vladimir Putin attempts to shake hands with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during a meeting in Moscow, Russia, June 5, 2019.

REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina

Russia and China have always had a complicated relationship. They almost went to war over a border dispute in 1969, and have historically regarded each other as neither friends nor enemies, but rather competitors for influence in Asia and elsewhere.

But that all started to change in 2014, the year Moscow and Beijing saw a US hand in the revolutions that prompted Russia to seize Crimea from Ukraine, and China to crack down on umbrella-wearing protesters in Hong Kong. China is increasingly thirsty for Russian oil and natural gas, and both have a common interest in standing up to “the West.”

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are now showing off their authoritarian bromance in the face of growing animosity from the US and its allies over flashpoints such as Ukraine and Taiwan.

We know how much of the West views Russia and China. But how do Russia and China view the West? Here's a hypothetical recent catch-up video call between BFFs Putin and Xi.

More Show less
The Graphic Truth: Coups ain’t what they used to be
Gabriella Turrisi & Paige Fusco

Rebel soldiers have ousted Burkina Faso's democratic government in the first military coup of 2022. Last year, soldiers also seized power in Myanmar, Mali, Guinea and Sudan. But attempts around the globe in recent decades have become both less common and less successful. That's partly because the end of the Cold War diminished outside superpowers' interest in backing coups against governments they didn't like. Here's a look at the historical record.

What We’re Watching: Burkina Faso coup, China’s “pure” internet, Thailand decriminalizes weed

Captain Sidsore Kader Ouedraogo, centre, spokesman for the military government, with uniformed soldiers from the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration or MPSR, announces on a television studio that they have taken power in Burkina Faso.

Radio Television du Burkina (RTB)/Handout via EYEPRESS

Another coup in volatile West Africa. Monday’s military coup in Burkina Faso is the fourth armed takeover of a West African government in just 17 months. As in neighboring countries like Mali — which has had not one but two coups since 2020 — it will be hard for outsiders, like the African Union and the regional group ECOWAS to reverse this assault on an elected government. Why? For one thing, al-Qaeda and Islamic State-affiliated militant groups are winning battles with soldiers and killing civilians in barely governed parts of Burkina Faso. For another, more than 1.5 million of the country’s 21 million people have been forced from their homes since 2018. Street protests in major cities and mutinies in military bases have made clear in recent months just how unsustainable Burkina Faso’s security situation has become. Events in Mali, Niger, and Guinea have followed a worryingly similar pattern, and the Ivory Coast and Benin also face growing jihadist threats. We’ll be watching to see whether Burkina Faso’s junta has more success than the government it ousted in beating back jihadist attacks and restoring security to the country — and what happens if it doesn’t.

China's internet "purification" campaign. Xi Jinping doesn't like big celebrities — other than his famous singer wife — because they often show off their expensive lifestyles online, encouraging Chinese youth to worship money instead of the ruling Communist Party. That's why ahead of next week's Lunar New Year, the government plans to take down celebrity fan groups and censor influencers whom Xi regards as "unpatriotic." What's more, minors will no longer be allowed to become online influencers. The campaign is part of Xi's broader "common prosperity" vision to combat rising wealth inequality in China, which has prompted a surge of charitable giving by tycoons, especially tech billionaires. It has also canceled celebrities who flaunted their wealth or embarrassed the CCP by doing things like visiting a Tokyo shrine that holds the remains of World War II criminals, acquiring foreign citizenship, or using a surrogate to have a baby born in the US. Keep all of this in mind if you're an aspiring influencer in China.

Thai stoners rejoice. On Tuesday, Thailand became the first Asian country to decriminalize cannabis by dropping it from its list of banned substances. This is a very big deal for a country known for some of the world’s toughest anti-drug laws, including the death penalty for anyone caught with even small amounts of certain narcotics. Still, a tangle of laws related to cannabis leaves unclear whether recreational use and possession will be prosecuted. For now, the percentage of THC — the psychoactive compound in cannabis that makes you high — must be under 0.2 percent. In recent years, Thailand has relaxed its policy on so-called soft drugs, first legalizing medical marijuana and later kratom, a popular plant-based mild stimulant and painkiller. But the country still has a big problem with addiction to hard drugs — especially yaba (crazy pill), a highly addictive combination of methamphetamine and caffeine sourced from the lawless border areas of neighboring Myanmar.
Hard Numbers: Oz buys Aboriginal flag, Malawi vs corruption, ISIS human shields, Boris the party animal

Children hold an indigenous flag at a Black Deaths in Custody Rally at Town Hall in Sydney, Saturday, April 10, 2021.

AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

14: The Australian government paid $14 million for the copyright of the Aboriginal flag so that anyone can display it without fear of being sued. Indigenous artist Harold Thomas created the flag 50 years ago as a protest image; since then, it has become the dominant Aboriginal symbol and an official national flag.

More Show less
Russia's Actions Towards Ukraine Are Strengthening NATO | World In :60 | GZERO Media

Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week on Russian escalation of Ukraine strengthening NATO, omicron and the end of COVID-19, and on the most recent military coup in West Africa — Burkina Faso:

How will Russian escalation of Ukraine strengthen NATO?

Well, NATO over the last 10, 20 years even was increasingly beset by problems. You had the US unilateralism focused more on Asia. You had the old mission of defending against the Russians less relevant. The French wanting strategic autonomy. Macron leaning into that. Now, of course, Merkel's gone, too. But the proximate reality in danger of the Russians invading Ukraine, actually, as much as the Europeans are more dependent on the Russians for their economy and their gas, they're also more concerned about Russia in terms of national security. That has driven a lot of coordination, including announcements of a lot more troops and material from being sent by NATO states to Ukraine and also to defend NATO borders, like in the Baltic states as well as Bulgaria and Romania. I would argue that what Putin's been doing so far has had no impact greater than bolstering NATO, and it's one of the reasons why I'm skeptical that a full-on invasion is something that Putin has in the cards because that would frankly do more than anything else out there to make NATO, focused on Russia, a serious and going concern.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

Beating China at AI

GZERO World Clips

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal