Whether or not to patent the COVID-19 vaccine has been a hot topic of conversation ever since they became widely available in January of this year. President Joe Biden announced his support to hold off on the United States patenting the vaccines to support other nations, while the CEOs of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have all expressed concerns over sharing their resources.
However, patenting the three vaccines is a major issue, as this can stop other countries from using this intellectual property to produce their own vaccines, effectively hindering increased production that would save those in desperate need of protection. For example, nearly 2% of India’s population has been fully vaccinated while its COVID-19 cases are at an all time high with more than 400,000 new cases counted each day. India has the infrastructure to produce the vaccine, but they need the vaccine to not be patented in order for them to proceed in their fight against COVID-19.
It is completely absurd and inhumane for the CEOs of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to want to go through the process of patenting their product, which takes valuable time and resources, while thousands upon thousands are dying at the grip of COVID-19. They need to follow Biden’s advice along with other international leaders who acknowledge the need to waive the intellectual rights of the vaccines for the time being to aid those who are dying.
This isn’t a money issue nor one of capitalistic pride, but rather this is a humanitarian crisis — one that is more important than making money right now. Biden was right to side with the international leaders who advised against the vaccine patent. They aren’t arguing that the vaccine should never be patented, but recommend holding off until the global pandemic subsides and the billions who are unvaccinated become immunized.
Around 100 other countries, including South Africa and India, are asking the World Trade Organization to lift the intellectual property rights claimed to the COVID-19 vaccines for the time being. If it is lifted, this could mean that the poorer countries, which make up 80% of the world’s population, could produce the vaccine for themselves, immunizing their citizens and saving precious lives.
There is a large imbalance in the distribution of the vaccine because the wealthier countries were able to swoop in first and purchase a majority of the vaccines’ stock, leaving poorer countries with little to support their people. Unless there is a change in vaccine distribution or a temporary lift of the patent, these poorer countries could be in trouble for the next two years, researches say.
It seems that countries like the U.S., driven by capitalism and an “every man for himself” mentality, struggle to see the value of lifting vaccine patents for the rest of the world. It’s not like people are asking these companies to never patent their valuable and proprietary products, but to simply avoid doing so until people are safe and out of the horrible trajectory that this killer virus is causing.
It is not just a want, but a desperate need for the COVID-19 vaccines to be left unpatented for now. Because of the vaccine distribution in the U.S., positive COVID-19 tests are at 3.4% compared to 15% in January. This drastic drop in positive cases is why the big vaccine companies and their CEOs need to not patent their vaccines. It is selfish, disgraceful and inhumane that companies are willing to let millions of people in other countries die just to keep the vaccines for themselves.