Biden fights Western pandemic disunity


We should see a peak in transatlantic cooperation. Fighting a common global threat seems like the perfect time. Instead, there is increasing friction. Joe Biden blinded European leaders last week by deposit to suspend patents on Covid vaccines. They were already annoyed by the White House’s pandemic version of Donald Trump’s America First diplomacy. Unlike Europe, which exported more than 100 million doses of the vaccine, the United States continues to stockpile supplies. But such a disparity seems insignificant in the face of growing complaints of global “vaccine apartheid”.

Part of Biden’s waiver proposal was aimed at countering such accusations. By supporting the removal of Pfizer’s license and Moderna’s vaccine technology, he has shown that a US president can tackle the extremely powerful pharmaceutical lobby. As Council on Foreign Relations Trade Specialist (and former colleague) Edward Alden valorize, the United States has divested parts of domestic manufacturing in previous global trade cycles to strengthen protections for large pharmaceutical companies. This is the reason why global vaccine patents are so strong. It’s also why Biden’s announcement was so politically bold. If he can take on the big pharmaceutical companies, could he have the courage to lower drug prices for the American consumer?

Instead, Biden provoked an unholy coalition of Germany’s Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron of France, hawkish Republican senators like Tom Cotton (who believe the waiver would give US medical secrets to China and Russia) and almost all opposition US business lobby groups. It was a minor triumph that the president managed to Overcome the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which strongly opposed the suspension of vaccine patents prior to last week. But the result is that Biden could take months to forge a consensus at the World Trade Organization, which will dampen the momentum of his decision.

That would be a shame, as removing licenses could be a big part of any Western drive to beat the pandemic. Critics say such a move would punish innovators. But they are exaggerating their case. Pfizer is ready to earn $ 26 billion in revenue this year thanks to its vaccine with margins of several billion. Moderna is also booming. Some of the technology comes from the taxpayer-funded National Institutes of Health, which regularly attaches non-exclusive license agreements to his science. Vaccines would not have come to market at such a speed without important advance purchase agreements, rapid regulatory approval and comprehensive liability protection. Now is not the time to prioritize corporate super profits.

A best review is that it would be difficult to convert the waiver into a rapid increase in production. It may be true. The technology is young and its processes are complex. However, if this were really the case, patent holders would not have much to fear since the waiver would not create new competition. It seems that the business lobbies are protesting too much. There are many wealthy countries, such as Japan and Canada, which could presumably learn about mRNA processes and export their excess production to the rest of the world. This could significantly narrow the gap in global demand.

Compared to Biden, Europe has been a role model in defending global supply chains. He exported almost as many vaccines as he put in European arms. United States, on the other hand, is only just beginning to allow modest exports. India, which desperately needs everything anyone can provide, has yet to receive some of the 60 million doses of AstraZeneca held by the Biden administration. Although Biden denies there is an American embargo, in practice there is. He could meet his goal of vaccinating 70% of Americans by the July 4 vacation. Should America’s 50 million or so vaccine hesitant be a higher priority than the 5 billion adults worldwide who have no choice?

Both sides of the Atlantic have also skimped on funding for the Covax facility, the WHO initiative to deliver injections to poor countries. The United States has committed only $ 4 billion until now. This is about 0.25% of the size of the recently adopted Biden American rescue plan. To $3 billions, the EU is committed even less by head than the United States. There is a lot of wisdom and madness at all costs. It should be of concern that the majority of vaccines delivered to date to Latin America – Washington’s backyard – are from China and Russia.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, George W. Bush declared that America must fight terrorists abroad so as not to have to confront them at home. This logic is well suited to today’s battle against Covid-19. Unlike terrorists, the virus does not discriminate between the country and the foreigner. Neither does the West.

edward.luce@ft.com



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