The Irish Times view on vaccine patent waivers: a start, but not a panacea

A disgracefully lopsided global vaccine rollout says everything about the limits of global solidarity

Staff work on the production of BioNTech/Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine at Allergopharma’s production facilities  near Hamburg, Germany, last week. Photograph: Christian Charisius/ EPA

Staff work on the production of BioNTech/Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine at Allergopharma’s production facilities near Hamburg, Germany, last week. Photograph: Christian Charisius/ EPA

 

The decision by the United States to support a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines has rattled drugmakers, split US allies and cheered advocates who believe the move is essential to providing equity of access to these life-saving shots around the world.

The idea has received backing from almost 60 countries, including France and Russia but not the UK or Germany. Although European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says the EU is “ready to discuss” it, the union has been lukewarm on the idea. German chancellor Angela Merkel has reiterated her scepticism, arguing that allowing any drug manufacturer to make copycat vaccines without fear of being sued would stifle the sort of innovation that led to these vaccines materialising so quickly in the first place. Big pharma makes the same point, although it is slower to acknowledge that most of the leading vaccines were developed with huge state investment.

The Biden administration has shown real leadership by shifting course in the face of heavy lobbying. The current global crisis is on a scale that justifies extraordinary measures, and the disgracefully lopsided rollout – where young and healthy people are being vaccinated in the West while healthcare workers and vulnerable older people struggle to receive enough oxygen, let alone a vaccine shot, in the developing world – says everything about the limits of global solidarity.

Yet this alone will not solve the problem, certainly not in the short- or medium-term. Producing mRNA vaccines is specialised and time-consuming work; it would take at least a year for a factory to start making it safely. To confront the crisis the world faces now and into 2022, the key is production and distribution. That requires states to invest to facilitate higher production and the licensing of new manufacturing sites as well as improving infrastructure for supply lines. And it demands that they share more vaccines. Let us not forget that the US, unlike the EU, blocked all vaccine exports until it had secured enough doses to inoculate its entire adult population.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.