COVID-19

U.S. backs waiving patent protections for COVID vaccines

David Brancaccio and Kristin Schwab May 6, 2021
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Alex Wong/Getty Images
COVID-19

U.S. backs waiving patent protections for COVID vaccines

David Brancaccio and Kristin Schwab May 6, 2021
Heard on:
Alex Wong/Getty Images
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In major switch, the Biden administration is joining other countries to try to waive intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines.

Marketplace’s Kristin Schwab has the details. The following is an edited transcript of her conversation with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio.

Kristin Schwab: This World Trade Organization proposal was started by India and South Africa and has been circulating since last fall. It would allow other drugmakers access to vaccine manufacturers’ secret recipes, if you will. And until now, the U.S. had been a major holdout. But Biden’s approval doesn’t necessarily mean a waiver will move forward.

David Brancaccio: What would it take to push this forward?

Schwab: Changing international property rules requires unanimous agreement from WTO nations. The European Union still isn’t on board, and even if it does join there will be lots of negotiation.

Then there’s the pharmaceutical industry, which is not happy about the proposal. It argues that these rules protect the quality of the vaccines against counterfeits, and that waiving them ultimately threatens future pharmaceutical developments by disincentivizing the risk and innovation that goes into creating costly new drugs.

Brancaccio: We’ve had reporting here that knowing the ingredients of a vaccine doesn’t mean other companies would have access to the production skills required to actually make the stuff.

Schwab: I know I called it a recipe earlier, but making vaccines is not like following a set of instructions. Supply chains have to be smoothed out to make sure manufacturers have the materials they need. And then there’s the sort of institutional knowledge piece. The patent holders will have to actually send workers to other manufacturers to make sure they understand the technical intricacies that go into making these vaccines.

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