Corona vaccination in the Philippines: do patents prevent larger production?
Photo: Ezra Acayan / Getty Images
The pharmaceutical companies make billions with their corona vaccines, but according to aid organizations, patents have so far prevented an even larger production of the vaccines, which are still scarce worldwide. According to the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), the fact that the USA, itself the home of large pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Moderna, has shown itself to be open to suspending patent protection for vaccines is a "historic decision".
It is a step towards global vaccine justice, "which puts the well-being of all people everywhere in a difficult time first," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"Let us all now act together quickly and in solidarity." Suspending the patents could counter global inequality in the distribution of vaccines in order to work together to "end this pandemic."
More than 100 countries for suspension
In view of the shortage of vaccines in many countries, the WHO chief had been pleading for such a patent waiver for months. Numerous non-governmental organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, had previously vehemently called for the patents to be suspended. Developing and emerging countries also support the measure. This means that production can be expanded worldwide and vaccines can be made more accessible to poorer countries.
So far, a suspension of the patents has been rejected by the industrialized nations, in which numerous large pharmaceutical companies are based. The US government has now announced that it will lobby the World Trade Organization (WTO) for an exemption. More than 100 member countries have already spoken out in favor of the project initiated by South Africa and India. Poorer countries accuse the industrialized countries of having bought up the existing production and of making an expansion of production impossible through patents.
Representatives of the pharmaceutical companies had previously tried to avert the suspension of the patents.
Surrendering intellectual property rights is not a solution, said Biontech boss Uğur Şahin, whose company developed an important vaccine together with Pfizer.
Instead, Biontech relied on close cooperation with selected partners, since its vaccine was difficult to produce - and promised special licenses for competent manufacturers.
Pharmaceutical industry outraged
The World Pharmaceutical Association IFPMA reacted accordingly disappointed to the announcement of the US trade representative Katherine Tai. The suspension of the patents is a "simple but wrong solution to this complex problem". Diplomats had previously argued that everything possible was being done to boost production. The patents are necessary for a fruitful cooperation between vaccine developers and manufacturers. The EU also advocated more license agreements between developers and manufacturers.
The US Pharmaceutical Company Representation (PhRMA) criticized the government's decision as "an unprecedented step that undermines our global fight against the pandemic."
The procedure will not save lives, but will further weaken the manufacturers' supply chains and lead to the spread of adulterated vaccinations, warned association chief Stephen Ubl.
The companies claim that patents are necessary to refinance the high investments in research.
In addition, a revocation of the patents does not automatically lead to more vaccine: All qualified manufacturers are already involved in production with licenses.
The share prices of the vaccine manufacturers Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax collapsed after the announcement by the US government.
The price of the Moderna share slipped by more than six percent in the meantime.
The US government's shift in course could, however, only lead to more globally available vaccines in the long term.
The negotiations at the WTO could take time because a consensus had to be found, said Tai.
She pointed to the complexity of the subject and said that now that the supply of its own population has been guaranteed, the US government will continue to work in cooperation with the companies to boost production.
apr / AFP / dpa