❮ Return to Our Work

Press Release | April 16, 2021

Break Big Pharma's Stranglehold On COVID-19 Vaccines With Existing Powers, 16 Groups Tell Biden Admin

CoronavirusIntellectual Property
Break Big Pharma's Stranglehold On COVID-19 Vaccines With Existing Powers, 16 Groups Tell Biden Admin

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Max Moran, moran@therevolvingdoorproject.org

A coalition of 16 organizations called on Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeffrey Zients to maximally use the executive branch’s existing powers to end the pharmaceutical industry’s stranglehold on supply on COVID-19 vaccines in an open letter today. Read the letter here.

“Anyone seeking to produce COVID-19 mRNA vaccines — which is to say, the whole population of the planet Earth — is forced ultimately to barter with these for-profit corporations, who hold unitary control over this technology for purely artificial, legal reasons,” the organizations wrote. 

The letter is specifically targeted at key figures within the Administration whose support for waiving global IP enforcement obligations is said to be in question.

Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson have received different types of intellectual property protections (patents, trademarks, copyrights, etc.) over different parts of the production process for COVID-19 vaccines, even though the vast majority of the research underlying these inventions relied upon taxpayer funding. 

These “thickets” of IP protection make it impossible for other manufacturers anywhere in the world to actually produce COVID-19 vaccines — even if the firms waive an individual form of intellectual property, as Moderna has with its patents (but not its trademarks, copyrights, etc.)

“There is no ethical reason, no geostrategic reason, and certainly no public health reason to keep these vaccines locked down by intellectual property,” Revolving Door Project Executive Director Jeff Hauser said. “Doing that artificially constricts the total supply of vaccines, which means more loss of life and more opportunities for the virus to mutate and overwhelm our current defenses. The only reason to maintain the full privatization of taxpayer funded research is if you’re a Big Pharma company that wants total control over a product that every human on earth needs. That is profoundly immoral and at odds with the values put forth by the Biden Administration.”

A motion in the World Trade Organization right now would waive all enforcement requirements for COVID-19 vaccines under the main global trade deal on IP, the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Requirements (TRIPS). The waiver requires unanimous support from all TRIPS members. The United States had opposed the waiver, but elements of the Biden administration are weighing supporting it.

The letter calls on the Biden administration to immediately support the TRIPS waiver, and also to use existing tools under domestic U.S. law to minimize the power of intellectual property monopolies over vaccine production. These include march-in rights, which allow the federal government to license out patented technologies that were produced through government funding, and Section 1498, which allows the United States to mass-purchase technologies protected by intellectual property.

###

CoronavirusIntellectual Property

More articles by Max Moran

❮ Return to Our Work