Are IPRs and Patents the Real Barriers to COVID-19 Vaccine Supplies?
Are IPRs and Patents the Real Barriers to COVID-19 Vaccine Supplies?
Van Anh Le and Leah Samson
ABSTRACT: In less than a year since the WHO’s declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, 13 vaccines against COVID-19 have been approved in at least one jurisdiction. However, new challenges have arisen, mostly surrounding the global distribution and access to these vaccines, particularly for low and middle-income countries. The Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), mainly patents, have been accused of standing in the way of global vaccination supplies.
By adopting an evidence-based approach, this paper challenges such current (mis)belief, arguing that the roadblocks of the inoculation program have nothing to do with IPRs but the real bottlenecks instead lie in manufacturing capacity, supply chain and export restrictions issues. The idea that vaccines will be made cheaper and quicker by removing the patent system and other forms of IPRs is both erroneous and unfounded. The authors further argue that eroding patent protection does more harm than good. Firstly, it will disincentivise research and development (R&D) in the vaccine industry, one of the most challenging sectors. Secondly, if patented vaccines are in the public domain and are not properly allocated, the ripple effect of the tragedy of common goods will soon be felt. Finally, removing IP rules can cause an increase in counterfeit products.
Therefore, less time should be spent on trying to dismantle the patent system. Instead, the focus should be on addressing trade restrictions, improving the global manufacturing partnerships between vaccine developers, and strengthening their cross-border supply chains to re-unite a fragmented world.

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