Waiving patent protection for COVID-19 vaccines does not solve problems
The research-based pharmaceutical companies oppose the waiving of patent protection because research would be hindered and the problem of the still lacking production capacities would be exacerbated.
vfa statement in the Bundestag health committee
On Feb. 16th, 2022, the vfa explained the importance of patent protection and how countries previously underserved with vaccine can be better helped in the public hearing "Controversy over patent-protected Corona vaccines." Read here.
Research-based pharmaceutical companies have developed vaccines against COVID-19 in record time, brought them to regulatory approval, and set up their large-scale production. This was and is a mammoth task. Now they continue to expand production and establish ever-growing production networks. To date, more than 13 billion doses have been produced in this way.
The development of the vaccines is based in part on decades of preliminary work. It was mainly private donors and companies that took the financial risk in order to further develop scientific findings and bring new technologies to market. They did so with the prospect that their intellectual property would be protected by patents and that their investments would have a chance to pay off. The argument that "the state" actually financed everything does not stand up to scrutiny for precisely this reason: government money only flowed in on a larger scale when it became clear that the vaccines would work - and was intended to spur production.
Vaccine production cannot be set up overnight on a greenfield site. And the on-site expertise of skilled workers, cooling equipment and high-tech components needed to produce the vaccine are only available in limited quantities. 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. With the removal of patent protection, not a single dose of vaccine will be available more quickly. In addition, original manufacturers lose an incentive to participate in the fastest possible global supply of vaccines when new virus variants or other pathogens emerge.
In order to provide vaccines to all regions and defeat the pandemic as quickly as possible worldwide, the governments of the international community and private-public partnerships have decided to launch and fund the COVID-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 fewer financial resources. Doses of vaccine are purchased from manufacturers and allocated to all states that have declared their participation in COVAX. The exact process is governed by World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines.
Global vaccine distribution
On Feb. 23rd, 2022, vfa President Han Steutel took a position on the issue in a guest article in the ÄrzteZeitung. He also discussed the issue with Prof. Dr. Anna Holzscheiter (University of Dresden) and Elisabeth Massute (Doctors Without Borders) on the radio program SWR2 FORUM on June 4th, 2021. Patent annulments are not only unsuitable for it, so Steutel, but even harmful for the further Pandemievorsorge.
Vaccine manufacturers working with the COVAX initiative have been enabled to resiliently expand their production capacity through upfront purchase commitments and advance payments. By January 2022, more than one billion doses of vaccine could be delivered through COVAX. The fact that it was not even more is partly due to an export ban on vaccine from India that was maintained for many months. The vfa explains in a separate article how COVAX works and how the 2022 supply targets are to be achieved.
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This text originally appeared as a guest article by vfa President Han Steutel in the magazine "UNITED NATIONS".