Dr. Anthony Fauci pushed back against global calls to strip pharmaceutical companies of the intellectual property rights allowing them to monopolize production of desperately needed Covid-19 vaccines Monday, warning it may not be the best way to improve vaccine access as the World Trade Organization meets this week to consider a patent-waiving proposal from India and South Africa.
Fauci said patent waivers may not be the answer to supply problems with Covid vaccines.Getty Images
Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, told the Financial Times he was “agnostic” about the idea of waiving intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines as it may not be “the fastest and most efficient way” of getting shots in arms.
A waiver—which would affect companies like Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson—would give other companies access to the information needed to make their own vaccines and permit them to do so, ideally boosting overall production.
Fauci, while supporting efforts to boost vaccine supply, said a waiver could potentially backfire and devolve into a protracted legal battle.
If a waiver would take too long, Fauci said there are “other ways to ramp up vaccine production around the world” to ensure vaccines are distributed.
“Going back and forth, consuming time and lawyers in a legal argument about waivers — that is not the end game,” Fauci said. “People are dying around the world and we have to get vaccines into their arms in the fastest and most efficient way possible.”
What To Watch For
The WTO’s General Council, one of the organization’s main decision-making bodies, is set to meet Wednesday and Thursday, where it will discuss proposals to waive aspects of intellectual property law and allow other companies to manufacture vaccines on their own. India and South Africa, both incredibly hard hit by the pandemic, are joined by 60 of 164 WTO members as co-sponsors of the proposal, Politico reported. The Biden administration is expected to outline its position on the matter during the meeting.
While rich countries are rolling out millions upon millions of vaccines, many poorer nations could be waiting years for supplies. With COVAX, the World Health Organization-led vaccine-sharing program, struggling to gain momentum, calls have been growing to do something about what activists term the “vaccine apartheid.” A frequent proposal, including that put before the WTO, centers on removing the monopolies on Covid-related medicines and equipment granted to drugmakers by their patents, requiring instructions on manufacture to be shared and allowing other companies to make them.
Pharmaceutical companies, along with the countries major players are located in, strongly oppose any efforts to do away with intellectual property rights. Companies argue that without the money patents bring in, there is little incentive for them to undertake the expensive task of developing and bringing drugs to market. Other companies may not be able to produce the drugs quickly even without patent protections, companies argue, pointing to broader supply chain issues and the wider technological know-how that is not included with patents.
Fauci warns against discarding trade rules on Covid vaccines (Financial Times)