News & Media

Intellectual Property and the Global Fight Against COVID-19

By Richard Bagger

We are witnessing a stunning disconnect between public health and public policy.

COVID-19 vaccines, developed with history-making speed and delivered through an extraordinary government and health system mobilization, have changed the trajectory of the pandemic and accelerated reopening of the U.S. economy. And to help address global public health needs for the vaccines, biopharmaceutical innovators have entered into hundreds of manufacturing and production partnerships worldwide. American vaccine exports are up, production levels increased, and new commitments to COVAX, the multi-stakeholder partnership for COVID-19 vaccine access, will help deliver at least 1.3 billion vaccine doses in 92 low and middle-income countries by the end of this year.

While real challenges remain in getting more shots into more people’s arms worldwide, suspending intellectual property protections, as the U.S. government proposes that the World Trade Organization do, is exactly the wrong answer. Waiving intellectual property for COVID vaccines is not only a superficial and hollow promise, but it would actually undermine the global response to the pandemic by weakening already stretched raw material supply chains, relying on manufacturers unlikely to be capable of producing the vaccines, and inviting distribution of substandard or ineffective vaccines.

Rather than run these risks with a policy that will not improve the global health challenges we face, governments and the private sector should work together to remove trade barriers, such as export restrictions and delays in regulatory approval. And additional American-made vaccines should be allocated and exported to countries that need them.

What’s more, the U.S. Government allowing other countries to seize American intellectual property is at odds with the stated policy objective of reinvigorating American manufacturing and growing innovation-based jobs. Biopharmaceutical innovators contribute more than $1.1 trillion to the U.S. economy and create more than four million jobs nationwide, an industry sector that should fostered, not diminished.

American leadership in biopharmaceutical innovation is a strategic asset that should not be undermined for the sake of a policy that would set back, rather than advance, the global fight against COVID-19.

Richard Bagger, Partner and Executive Director of Christie 55 Solutions, served as Chair of the Global Innovation Policy Center at the United States Chamber of Commerce from 2014 to 2018.