In recent months, members of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) have attempted to undermine legal intellectual property (IP) protections for COVID-19 related technologies—including vaccines. Specifically, these members have requested that a waiver be granted for these protections so that foreign nations, like China, can reap the benefits of the hard work and investments made by American vaccine developers. Further compounding this situation is the Biden Administration’s announcement that it supports the waiver.
While the Administration’s decision is well-intentioned, it is unfortunately misguided, as giving away intellectual property is not the same as dispersing vaccines to those in need. Even if the waiver is granted, it won’t lead to an increased supply of vaccines, as the process for manufacturing these products is extremely complex. The vaccines require ingredients and equipment that can be hard to come by, and giving other nations access to the IP of American innovators won’t change those circumstances.
As former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb pointed out:
There aren’t enough of these materials anywhere in the world. Allowing other manufacturers to appropriate the intellectual property wouldn’t increase the supply of the starting ingredients. It will make it harder for the current drug makers to produce these vaccines. As raw ingredients are diverted to new manufacturers with far less efficient production, and as these new companies would then run new clinical trials on copied vaccines, world-wide production of the vaccines would decline, not expand.
Furthermore, granting this waiver would reward foreign adversaries and bad actors like China, the country where the pandemic originated, with access to U.S. innovation. Sadly, we have already seen China try to give vaccines to Paraguay, Honduras, and others in exchange for their recognition of China's false claims on Taiwan. U.S. policy should be to mitigate these bad actors, not enable them.
Rather than put a stamp of approval on a proposal that would hand our adversaries a gift and have a profound impact on American innovation, the Biden Administration should focus on increasing production and supply of the vaccine and working with leaders in other countries to make the vaccine available to those suffering.
As the likelihood of this happening is slim, Congressman Byron Donalds (R-FL) and Senators Tim Scott (R-SC) and Pat Toomey (R-PA), have wisely sought to proactively prevent the U.S. from being complicit in stealing IP from its own citizens and giving access to bad actors across the globe. Specifically, H.R. 3035/S. (1683), the Preventing Foreign Attempts to Erode Healthcare Innovation Act, which prohibits the Biden Administration from using funds to support a motion at the World Trade Organization that would seek to eliminate all Intellectual Property rights protections for COVID-related innovations.
Heritage Action encourages all Members to oppose the TRIPS waiver and, instead, cosponsor Congressman Donalds’ Preventing Foreign Attempts to Erode Healthcare Innovation Act.