Catholics debate Biden’s waiver of vaccine property rights
MANHATTAN – Two U.S. faith-based organizations at the forefront of the global coronavirus response are supporting the federal government to lift intellectual property (IP) protection for COVID-19 vaccines, in a bid to help countries with poorer to get more doses.
Other Catholic voices are not quite sold, fearing that if market incentives for the development of new drugs will be distorted by government action, research and development such as the extraordinary push that produced the vaccine. Covid will be reduced.
Officials from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Jubilee USA Network told The Tablet they were touting waiving IP protections on vaccines – copyrights, patents, trademarks and trade secrets – as an essential step to end the pandemic.
âWhat we’re saying in this case is that this is a disease that is ravaging the whole world,â said Emily Wei, CRS policy director. “We are not going to eradicate it until everyone is vaccinated and you achieve this herd immunity.”
CRS estimates that achieving herd immunity will require around 11 billion doses to vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population (assuming two doses are given per person).
Eric LeCompte, executive director of Jubilee USA NETWORK also acknowledged that these vaccines are essential in stopping mutations and variants “that could re-infect people in the north if the developing world does not have access to the vaccines.” But, he also noted that failure to help these countries get back on their feet has a huge global economic impact.
âThe longer the pandemic rages in developing countries, the more economic shocks we will continue to experience in the north from imports and exports,â LeCompte said.
The US government supported lifting intellectual property protections on Wednesday. In a statement, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the “extraordinary circumstances” of the pandemic called for “extraordinary measures”.
The United States was the first country in the developed world to publicly support the idea, which French President Emmanuel Macron later adopted on Thursday. Just like Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Friday. India and South Africa first raised the idea in October.
The waiver of intellectual property protections is something the Vatican has also been supporting for months.
In February, Archbishop Ivan Jurkovic, who is the Vatican’s representative to United Nations agencies in Geneva, addressed a meeting of the World Trade Organization Council for Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights related to trade, where he denounced the fact that “in many countries, a large number of manufacturing facilities, whose capacity to produce safe and effective vaccines has been proven, are not able to use these capabilities due to intellectual property barriers. “
âThe world is on the brink of catastrophic moral failure – and the price for this failure will be paid by lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries,â said Bishop Jurkovic.
There are, however, opponents of waiving intellectual property protections.
Stephen J. Ubl, CEO of Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) – whose members include AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson – said in a statement that “this decision will confuse public and private partners, will further weaken more already strained supply chains and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines. “
In a conversation with The Tablet, Father Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute – a Michigan-based think tank promoting free market policies underpinned by religious principles – said that rather than forgoing protection of intellectual property, more emphasis should be placed on measures such as improving the supply chain. He also fears that lifting intellectual property protection could set a dangerous precedent that would remove the incentives for companies to do this work in the future.
âWhat you don’t think about is what made the vaccine possible in the first place. It was a whole infrastructure of property rights, prices and incentives that allowed research to enter, âsaid Father Sirico. “People need to know that if they put all of their effort and all of their resources into researching and developing things like this, there will be a reward for it.”
LeCompte said he would agree with this analysis if the vaccine makers had not used the government’s public investments to develop the vaccines in the first place.
“It is absolutely a sin that companies that have made billions of dollars on the vaccine without any investment on their part, yet public investment from governments like the United States are now refusing to lift patents or help with the vaccine distribution, âLeCompte told The Tablet.
âThese companies are not acting in the direction of a free market. In a sense, they are acting out of government charity, âhe continued. “They have not paid back the public investment and now they are making ridiculous profits and refusing to share vaccines with the poor.”
AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson have all received funding from the U.S. government to produce their COVID-19 vaccines. Pfizer refused US government funding for production. The only contract he received from the US government was for doses and distribution.
Despite using public funds, Moderna announced in October that it would not enforce vaccine patents during the pandemic.
Father Sirico acknowledged that companies that have received public funding should have to repay that funding to some extent, but argued that “ceding all intellectual property rights seems excessive”.
For now, the World Trade Organization is considering a proposal led by India and South Africa to waive intellectual property protection for COVID-19 vaccines. However, LeCompte warns that there are still powerful nations opposing the idea, such as Germany, and the process could take months.
âUnfortunately, we envision a World Trade Organization process that could take months,â LeCompte said. “And each day that we wait not only takes lives in developing countries, but it harms people around the world.”