No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Pfizer, Moderna and other companies quickly produced vaccines that are snuffing out the coronavirus pandemic in developed nations. We now have the luxury of turning our attention to poorer countries such as India, where the disease began spiraling out of control last month. So naturally, some people think they have identified the villains here: the companies that developed the vaccines. They are denouncing “pandemic profiteering” and making loud, angry demands to expropriate vaccine patents.
Supposedly, this movement to expropriate patents is about speeding up vaccinations in less-developed countries, but even if the patents were taken, it’s unlikely the supply of vaccines will increase. The bottleneck is not intellectual property rights but production capacity, particularly because the new mRNA vaccines require new processes and specialized equipment. Any random pharmaceutical factory cannot simply start production.
What’s more, does anyone really think the vaccine manufacturers are arbitrarily holding out on us, that they are not manufacturing as much as they can as quickly as they can, or that they are unwilling to license their vaccines to other manufacturers? In fact, Moderna announced late last year that for the duration of the pandemic, it would not enforce its COVID-related patents. The problem is that nobody else has the expertise and capacity to take advantage of this lack of enforcement.
A patent seizure is largely symbolic rather than practical, and its message is clear: No good deed goes unpunished. Seizing the patents tells us that people who develop a life-saving product do not deserve any reward. Isn’t that an astonishingly perverse idea?
Read the rest at Discourse.