Yves here. It is hardly surprising to see Big Pharma fight tooth and nail against the proposed WTO waiver for Covid-19 vaccine patents. But what bothers me is that so few of the parties pumping for the waiver explain what the drug companies’ position is outrageous from an economic perspective. They already get massive subsidies via the NIH and other agencies funding basic research. Any applied research that the Feds patent is licensed for free.
For the Covid vaccines, Operation Warp Speed guaranteed the drug-makers access to the market. They got an additional monster subsidy via liability waivers.
So much risk has been absorbed by the public that the drugmakers are getting disproportionate upside. They are hardly in a position to whine if patent waivers for poor countries restore a more typical commercial risk/return tradeoff.
The level of opposition is enough to make one wonder: is this really about stopping a precedent? Or was it that they really wanted the disease to stay on the loose in the Global South as long as possible, to insure spread back to the North and thus increase the need for regular vaccinations?
By Brett Wilkins, staff writer for Common Dreams. Originally published at Common Dreams
While global health advocates applauded the Biden administration’s recent decision to support waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines as “critical,” “transformative,” and “unquestionably the right thing to do,” Big Pharma took a decidedly less optimistic view of the move and has been hard at work behind the scenes in a bid to thwart the policy, a report published Friday by The Intercept revealed.
In a bid to stymie U.S. support for a proposal by India and South Africa to enact a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO), the pharmaceutical industry is “distributing talking points, organizing opposition, and even collecting congressional signatures in an attempt to reverse President Joe Biden’s support for worldwide access to generic Covid-19 vaccines,” according to The Intercept’s Lee Fang.
We obtained emails showing PhRMA recruiting Sen. Tim Scott and around 30 House Republicans to lead a new charge against Biden to oppose sharing vaccine know-how with low-income countries.
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) May 14, 2021
Fang obtained an email from Jared Michaud, a lobbyist with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)—a trade group whose clients include vaccine developers AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer—describing how Big Pharma and sympathetic U.S. legislators are pushing lawmakers to oppose a TRIPS waiver.
The email explains that Reps. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) are leading an unreleased letter to Biden—which currently has 29 co-signers—”expressing concerns with the administration’s support for waiving IP protections related to Covid-19 vaccines under the WTO TRIPS waiver.”
“We urge you to contact offices and ask them to sign onto this letter,” said Michaud’s email.
The letter additionally claims that the TRIPS waiver would cost U.S. jobs and be a boon for China, which would “profit from our innovation.”
Michaud’s email contains talking points that paint the IP waiver as a national security threat that would “irreversibly damage American innovators” and the U.S. government’s “strategic engagement,” while a separate document marked “confidential” claims that “waiving intellectual property will undermine the global response to the pandemic and compromise vaccine safety.”
According to Fang, “The metadata for the document shows that the PDF document was created by Megan Van Etten, an international public affairs specialist for PhRMA.”
Fang notes that PhRMA spent $24 million on lobbying at the federal level last year “and is one of the biggest corporate players in election spending.”
According to OpenSecrets, PhRMA has spent $8.7 million on lobbying so far this year. This, as client Pfizer has raked in $3.5 billion in profits from the sale of its Covid-19 vaccine in just the first three months of 2021.
The Biden administration’s decision to support waiving intellectual-property protections for coronavirus vaccines is a big loss for Big Pharma, which ranked among the biggest spenders on Washington lobbying in Q1 of this year.https://t.co/OpTySjD1Yd
— OpenSecrets.org (@OpenSecretsDC) May 7, 2021
“The group has long shaped drug policy not only domestically but also in the international arena,” writes Fang. “PhRMA led the push in the late 1990s to pressure South African President Nelson Mandela to drop efforts to break patent laws and allow for the importation and manufacture of generic HIV/AIDS medications, which at the time cost an annual $10,000-$15,000 per patient.”
Progressive U.S. lawmakers have taken Big Pharma and its lobbyists to task for their opposition to Covid-19 vaccine patent waivers.
“Amid a global pandemic, major pharmaceutical companies are lobbying to protect billions in profits,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in March following the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s dismissal of the proposed TRIPS waiver as “misguided.”