This is the people’s vaccine — share it widely
Michael Rosenblatt’s April 24 op-ed, “The downside of suspending intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines,” neglects certain details:
▪ Taxpayer dollars substantially funded the mRNA research being used.
▪ Taxpayer dollars assumed the financial risk for enabling rapid production of any successful vaccine candidates.
▪ Taxpayer dollars are funding the COVAX program; however, high income-countries have pre-ordered most of the actual vaccines.
Rosenblatt writes that “the system that gave us these shots depends entirely on strong intellectual property rights. These same protections will be critical when we face the next pandemic.”
With the next pandemic, the world will be far safer when vaccines can be produced everywhere because the infrastructure will have been created. One of the lessons from the HIV and Ebola pandemics is that systems created then have enabled the Global South to quickly and effectively tamp down this pandemic.
This is the people’s vaccine, and we must share it widely.
As Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, recently said, “In combination with proven public health measures, we have all the tools to tame this pandemic everywhere in a matter of months. It comes down to a simple choice: to share or not to share. Whether or not we do is not a test of science, financial muscle, or industrial prowess; it’s a test of character.”
Dr. Leslye Heilig
US should join rest of world and suspend patent rights to increase vaccine access
In arguing against suspending intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Michael Rosenblatt, an adviser to Moderna and the former chief medical officer of Merck, makes many misstatements. Contrary to Rosenblatt’s position on the issue, the United States should join the rest of the world in suspending patent rights to increase vaccine access.
Pointing to the unspecified “billions” spent by industry as a justification for industry to retain patent rights, Rosenblatt neglects to mention the $17 billion spent by the National Institutes of Health on vaccine platforms and the more than $13 billion spent by the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed on COVID-specific vaccines, including all of Moderna’s research-and-development and clinical trial costs.
Rosenblatt also misrepresents intellectual property licensing by Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, who have entered into limited manufacturing agreements but have refused to share their full intellectual property with other capable manufacturers globally. These limited manufacturing agreements would not aid in the rapid response necessary to combat the changing virus, nor would they meet the likely need for future reapplication of the vaccine.
Rosenblatt further argues that patent holders of the three US approved vaccines — Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer-BioNTech — promised allocation of vaccines to developing countries. However, he fails to point out that those numbers are far from sufficient. He praises the COVAX program when that has only succeeded in distributing 43 million vaccines for more than 6.5 billion people in developing countries — a 0.7 percent contribution.
Rosenblatt maintains that factories manufacturing vaccines are running at full capacity. In truth, multiple companies in Europe, Canada, and developing countries have untapped capacity blocked by Big Pharma’s intellectual property.
Finally, Rosenblatt misrepresents vaccine rollout estimates from Duke University when he says that 70 percent of people will be vaccinated by the end of 2021. Instead, Duke says many developing countries won’t be vaccinated until 2023 or even 2024.
The United States should support an intellectual property waiver, not oppose it. The world needs the vaccine now.
Margaret Y.K. Woo
The authors are faculty directors for the Program on Human Rights in the Global Economy, at Northeastern University School of Law.
Private companies benefited from public support
Whose intellectual property?
Dr. Michael Rosenblatt, in “The downside of suspending intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines,” makes the case that any infringement on the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies will hurt future drug development. What Rosenblatt, an adviser to Moderna, neglects to address is that these very profitable, private-sector corporations were given billions of taxpayer dollars to develop these vaccines.
Our nation’s largest corporations, including pharmaceutical companies, all benefit from public taxpayer contributions to their businesses — in the case of COVID-19 vaccines, direct grants of cash; in other cases, tax breaks and publicly funded research and infrastructure (for example, the human genome project and our paved and digital highways). All of us, taxpayers and media alike, need to stop accepting self-serving “I did it my way” myths.
We need to find better ways to leverage the private and public ownership of intellectual property. Responding to more than 3.1 million COVID-19 deaths and emerging, potentially deadlier variants compels us to do so immediately.
It’s in our interest to see pandemic as a global problem
Dr. Michael Rosenblatt calls the COVAX program, which distributes vaccines to countries that cannot otherwise obtain them, “highly successful.” But the numbers so far are a drop in the bucket. We need about 8 billion doses to get the world vaccinated.
Even if one doesn’t care about the lives of people in other countries, it’s vital to the United States to end the pandemic everywhere. Otherwise, we will be a fighting a steady stream of variants (“COVID the sequel: Virus isn’t going away,” Page A1, April 25).
Fortunately, it is not that hard to vaccinate the world. The nonprofit PrEP4All has a detailed blueprint for how the government could manufacture 8 billion Moderna doses by spring 2022 (“Advocates want NIH to use its Moderna vaccine patent to push for global access,” Page C9, March 26). The start-up cost would be $4 billion, which Congress has already allocated for vaccine production as part of the American Rescue Plan. The government would not even have to break Moderna’s patent, as Rosenblatt opposes. It would be sufficient to negotiate an agreement where the government would do the production under license from Moderna.
The Biden administration should use all the leverage it has to move forward with such a plan. Otherwise, millions more people will die, and we will all be at risk from COVID variants for years.