Picture: 123RF/S SILVER
Picture: 123RF/S SILVER

New York — The US decision to support a temporary waiver of intellectual-property (IP) protections for Covid-19 vaccines won’t end debate on the issue, much less end the pandemic.

Reaching a formal agreement could take months, and even then may not accelerate vaccine production; opposition from countries such as Germany could yet doom any compromise. Governments, pharmaceutical companies and activists should be doing everything in their power now to scale up manufacturing, rather than hoping a waiver will solve the problem.

Vaccine activists say it’s unconscionable for private companies to cling to IP and profits while millions die, especially since public money funded much of their research. Vaccine developers reply that stripping IP protections will make it harder for them to invest in research that could head off the next pandemic. 

Both sides should focus on their common goal — delivering more shots faster, and in every part of the world. Activists should stop insisting IP is the main bottleneck to expanding vaccine production globally. Without critical technology, manufacturing know-how, trained personnel and raw materials, drugmakers can’t just churn out more doses, especially of the mRNA-based vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. 

Yet vaccine developers should understand that their position on IP would command more support if they made greater and more visible efforts to expand production at home and abroad. Where they encounter obstacles — say because of safety concerns, regulatory delays or lack of capacity or personnel — they should call on governments to help overcome them, rather than seeming to throw up their hands.

For its part, the best way for the Biden administration to meet the immediate need for shots is to start sharing excess supplies. The US alone may end up with about 370-million more doses than it requires, and could free up more if it decides to start sharing. Another priority is to eliminate barriers to exports of critical raw materials as well as finished doses, so both can get to where they’re needed most.

Beyond this, rich-country governments need to reward higher global production. Incentivising additional domestic output for distribution abroad might be the first and fastest course — but if that falls short, as it probably will, governments should help companies set up new facilities in other countries. /New York, May 12

Bloomberg Opinion. For more articles like this please visit Bloomberg.com/opinion


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