Sunday, April 3, 2022

Opinion | Should We Suspend Patents on Covid Vaccines?

To the Editor:

Re “Biden Endorses Effort to Share Vaccine Secrets” (front page, May 6):

Congratulations to President Biden for supporting the suspension of patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines. This will help bolster availability to nations where supplies are urgently needed and promote an end to our worldwide crisis.

Not surprisingly, the pharmaceutical industry is angry. Sharing trade secrets could impinge upon profits. No matter that we are faced with a moral imperative to assist developing nations. The industry has already called Mr. Biden’s announcement “an unprecedented step that will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety.”

Such threats are nothing new. These and other tactics have been exposed over the years as Congress has held hearings on the exorbitant earnings of this group, described at a hearing back in 2003 as “perhaps the most profitable industry in the world.”

As justification that the very same drugs cost more in America than in Europe and Canada, companies cite their need to pay for research.

However, it has come to light that the industry typically spends more on advertising than research, and most new pharmaceuticals are not improvements over drugs already available.

With all that wealth, let’s hope that the industry doesn’t use it to persuade Mr. Biden to change his mind.

Nancy J. Herin
Gaithersburg, Md.

To the Editor:

Re “The West Must Waive Drug Patents,” by Walden Bello (Opinion guest essay, May 4):

Waiving vaccine patents will not result in swifter availability in less developed nations. Developing countries obviously need Covid-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines as quickly as possible. But removing intellectual property protections could in fact slow that down.

In the past, when developing countries have issued “compulsory licenses” — which effectively allow domestic manufacturers to create knockoff treatments even before drug patents expire — it has taken years for generic manufacturers to receive the drug formulas and scale up production. Such extreme measures simply aren’t necessary.

The companies that created lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines and therapies have already promised to share them widely in the developing world. Waiving patents wouldn’t speed the rollout of existing vaccines, but it would ensure we’re less prepared to fight the next pandemic, setting a terrible precedent that will chill future medical innovation.

Peter J. Pitts
New York
The writer, a former Food and Drug Administration associate commissioner, is president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, which receives partial funding from pharmaceutical companies.

To the Editor:

President Biden has a moral imperative to act not only to help resource-limited countries but also to continue protecting the health of his fellow citizens. High transmission rates around the world are breeding grounds for new variants at risk of escaping the hard-earned immunity acquired through vaccination. No matter where these variants will appear they will always find their way to the United States.

It is time that the U.S. and Europe stop being condescending toward other nations. India, Brazil and South Africa, to name a few, have highly skilled scientists and other people able to ramp up complex manufacturing if given the right protocols and tools.

We are all interconnected, and giving access to a lifesaving vaccine during a deadly pandemic is imperative for all of us.

Simona Zompi
Oakland, Calif.
The writer is a scientist and physician.

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