Biden urged to force U.S. vaccine makers to share technology

Many scientists and activists who helped persuade Joe Biden to support an intellectual property waiver for Covid vaccines are urging the US president to go further and force vaccine makers to hand over their technology.

Scientists and progressive supporters celebrated last week’s decision by the Biden administration to support the removal of corporate rights to enforce intellectual property protections on Covid vaccines. But they say that if the administration is to end the pandemic in the next 12 months, it must persuade or coerce companies to share their know-how with potential rivals in developing countries.

“The waiver has been a big step forward, but the technology transfer must be next,” said Zain Rizvi, researcher at Public Citizen – one of the groups that led the campaign for a waiver of ownership. intellectual for vaccines. “The president must deploy all the authority and strength of his position to make this happen.”

Asia Russell, executive director of Health Gap, one of the global health organizations consulted by the Biden administration in its decision to support the IP exemption, said, “We won’t get that by asking nicely to l ‘pharmaceutical industry. We have to force companies to share their technology, we have to mandate it. “

The World Health Organization last year create a fund called Covax, under which richer countries fund poorer ones to pay for doses of vaccines. But vaccine doses are limited around the world, and many rich countries have quickly stocked up by paying billions of dollars to help their development.

Since the first Covid-19 vaccines were approved late last year, production has grown rapidly in wealthier countries like the UK and US, but lagging behind in the poorest. While the United States has fully vaccinated 36% of its population, India, which has been devastated by the recent wave of infections, has only vaccinated 2.8%.

Scientists say the fracture is not only a moral issue, but a public health issue if the virus is allowed to mutate and become resistant to vaccines in unvaccinated areas of the world and then spread elsewhere.

Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, announced last week that the Biden administration would support a World Trade Organization decision to waive patent rights to Covid vaccines, in the hopes that it would allow manufacturers to developing countries to make their own copies of vaccines.

But many experts say that even if the WTO waiver proposal guarantees the necessary support from every member, production will not increase quickly enough. Instead, they want companies to pass instructions on how to make their vaccines to other companies around the world, even if it ends up reducing their own income.

They say it’s especially important to do this with mRNA vaccines such as those made by BioNTech / Pfizer and Moderna, given that they can be modified more quickly to deal with potential emerging variants.

Amy Kapczynski, co-director of the Global Health Justice Partnership at Yale Law School, said: “We need to get as many people vaccinated as possible, as quickly as possible. Many manufacturers are able to maintain their production in the medium and long term without transfer of technology. But to achieve this in the short term, technology transfer is essential. “

Biden said last month, “I think we’ll be able to share the vaccines as well as the know-how with other countries that really need them.”

But since then, no deal has been announced between U.S. vaccine makers and overseas manufacturers, leading some to call for more aggressive action by the administration.

One possibility is that the president could use his powers under the Korean War Era Defense Production Act seize technology from companies on behalf of government and then share it with other countries.

Another is that the government could use its own patents to force the hands of vaccine makers. Moderna in particular used a patent for its unlicensed vaccine from the National Institutes of Health, who invented the technology.

Barney Graham, one of the NIH scientists behind the patent, told the Financial Times last month he gave the government “leverage” on companies to boost global supplies.

The administration could also create an organization to act as a third-party broker negotiating technology transfer agreements on behalf of US manufacturers.

The Clinton Foundation is playing this role with anti-HIV drugs and says it has helped cut costs 100 times in some parts of the world. The WHO has already launched a Covid-19 patent pool for companies to share their intellectual property, and experts say this could also prove to be a much needed global technology broker.

The White House has not commented, although administration officials say they are focusing on increasing the supply to the United States and its export rather than helping with the installation. of manufacturing abroad.

Many fear, however, that such a policy will keep prices exceedingly high and fail to provide the speed needed to vaccinate the world before more disturbing variants emerge.

Matthew Kavanagh, assistant professor of global health at Georgetown University, said: “It’s happened before, so there’s no reason it can’t happen again. Businesses have to tell the government, “This is our technology, you find the people to make it.” “

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