The Biden administration has come out in support of a World Trade Organization proposal to temporarily lift intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines in a move that could boost production around the world. The plan was proposed by India and South Africa and Biden has come under immense pressure to support it. A waiver would allow drugmakers to access closely guarded secrets about how successful vaccines have been produced and proponents claim it would lead to both greater and more affordable supplies for developing countries. Pharmaceutical companies have voiced their opposition to any move to temporarily remove Covid-19 vaccine patents, however, insisting that it would not eliminate supply bottlenecks and only serve to stifle innovation.
Along with the pharmaceutical industry, President Trump was also opposed to removing patents, along with the United Kingdom and European Union. The emergence of more dangerous Covid-19 variants in infection hotspots could compromise existing vaccines and prolong the pandemic, adding extra urgency to discussions about a waiver. Proponents have been keen to point out that most Covid-19 vaccine producers would not have been able to develop their jabs as quickly without substantial injections of public research and development funding. Indeed, hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed into the companies that have produced the successful shots according to data compiled by the Knowledge Portal on Innovation and Access to Medicines.
The United States and Germany have been the largest investors in Covid-19 vaccine R&D, pouring approximately $2 billion and $1.5 billion into the effort, respectively. Notably, out of $5.9 billion in investment tracked up to March 2021, 98.12% was public funding. The money primarily went to private companies with both Moderna and Janssen receiving more than $900 million. Pfizer
and BioNTech, who developed the first Covid-19 vaccine authorized in the United States, received some $800 million in R&D funding. Practically all of the money invested in the three companies came from public funding. Shares in Moderna, BioNTech and other Covid-19 vaccine producing companies fell sharply on Wednesday when news emerged of Biden’s backing for the patent waiver. World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described the U.S. move on Wednesday as “a historic decision” and “a monumental moment in the fight against Covid-19”.
*Click below to enlarge (charted by Statista)