Day 419: Vaccinating the world needs a talk first
By the 419th day of the pandemic, there’s a raging debate about IP on vaccines and how to speed up production.
Industry associations, the EU and almost other influential trade bodies that matter in agreement that IP is not the issue in the current crisis. A common view is that the idea that IP is the barrier to making more vaccine is ludicrous. Other views range from ‘you can’t do it’ to ‘it is pointless (and stupid)’. Vaccine production is complex and involves advanced manufacturing processes. At the same time it is the same big cluster of companies located in EU and North America that have shifted several manufacturing processes to Asia and the Asia-Pacific lock, stock and barrel. The debate is verging towards convenience.
There is little evidence that IP sharing will help. The trouble is that there is little evidence on the other side as well – that IP sharing will not help. The ingredients and supply chain are the bottlenecks. No manufacturer anywhere in the world is naive enough to not know these constraints to manufacturing.
The views on why IP sharing is not okay and why it will not be of use appear reasonable given that the pharma industry has a heavy geopolitical tilt towards the West. India should withdraw the appeal probably. Afterall, it is knowledge produced by corporations (often backed by the national government of a country) that is being asked to be shared. The knowledge producer has a right to decide either way.
The outcome will set a new ground for global cooperation in the future though. If the industry and analysts have had clear and precise data on where the bottlenecks are and what is causing them, then it also means that a roadmap to fix those issues is possible. The intent however dictates against any such move.
This may eventually turn out to be a symbolic issue and by the time any meaningful decision is made, big pharma companies might fulfill most of the immediate global need through their own factories.
But this will also mean that the markets eventually win and that any country, any group of people which is caught on the wrong side of it, for whatever reason (their mistake or plain misfortune), will have the short end of the stick. Or, as in this case, might not get a chance to survive the pandemic. Because vaccines cost money, it was made by investing a lot of money and you can have it when the developer is rewarded more money.
And by the way, Edward Jenner never patented smallpox vaccine, the world’s first vaccine. Those who come after tend to forget what enabled them.