Waiving patent protection for COVID-19 vaccines? No!

The research-based pharmaceutical companies reject the abolition of patent protection, as research would be disincentivized and the problem of the still lacking production capacities would be aggravated.

Eine Forscherin arbeitet in einer Laborumgebung vor einem Monitor.

The research-based pharmaceutical companies have developed vaccines against COVID-19 in record time, brought them to market approval and built up their large-scale production. This was and is a mammoth task. Now they are expanding production further and further by establishing ever-growing production networks.

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Vaccine production cannot be set up overnight on a greenfield site. And the on-site expertise of skilled workers, availability of refrigeration equipment and high-tech ingredients needed to produce the serum are limited. Without entrepreneurial thinking with the prospect of patent protection, vaccines would not have been available so quickly, nor would companies be able to supply billions of doses. Removing patent protection would not facilitate that even a single dose of vaccine would be available more quickly. In fact, the opposite would likely be true: original manufacturers would no longer have an incentive to participate in making vaccines available worldwide as quickly as possible. Retrofitting existing vaccine factories would also be counterproductive, as the production of other important vaccines would then have to be stopped. To our knowledge, there are no vacant vaccine factories anywhere. Even India, which develops its own vaccines, is desperately looking for production capacity worldwide. That is why pharmaceutical companies rely on establishing production cooperation.

In order to supply all regions and to defeat the pandemic worldwide as quickly as possible, the governments of the international community as well as private-public partnerships have decided to launch and finance theCOVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative. The aim is to make vaccines available quickly and affordably to poorer countries. The COVAX principle is based on 100 richer countries pledging to support 90 countries with less financial resources. Vaccines are purchased from manufacturers and allocated to all countries that have declared their participation in COVAX. The exact procedure is regulated by guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the first vaccines have already been delivered.

Vaccine manufacturers working with the COVAX initiative will be able to expand their production capacity quickly and sustainably through upfront purchase commitments and advance payments. This will involve delivery volumes, delivery dates and very moderate prices. By the end of 2021, COVAX should have at least two billion doses of vaccine available to overcome the acute phase of the pandemic.

Ultimately, the success of COVAX also depends on good and practicable logistics: it must be ensured that the vaccines can also reach remote areas without good infrastructure. The vaccination campaigns of recent years have shown that this is possible. If everyone continues to work together, the pandemic can be defeated. The research-based pharmaceutical companies are doing their part.

Illustration of the cooperation between nations, Covax facility and vaccine manufacturers

This text originally appeared as a guest article by vfa President Han Steutel in the magazine "VEREINTE NATIONEN".