Biden Administration Virtue Signaling on Patents Won’t Fix Vaccine Bottlenecks
One big Biden administration gaffe was its proposal to suspend patent protection on coronavirus vaccines in order to combat global disease hotspots.
It was a case of altruism and politics running counter to cold, hard reality. As economist Alex Tabarrok writes, patents were never the problem in vaccine distribution:
All of the vaccine manufacturers are trying to increase supply as quickly as possible. Billions of doses are being produced–more than ever before in the history of the world. Licenses are widely available. AstraZeneca have licensed their vaccine for production with manufactures around the world, including in India, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, China and South Africa. J&J’s vaccine has been licensed for production by multiple firms in the United States as well as with firms in Spain, South Africa and France. Sputnik has been licensed for production by firms in India, China, South Korea, Brazil and pending EMA approval with firms in Germany and France. Sinopharm has been licensed in the UAE, Egypt and Bangladesh. Novavax has licensed its vaccine for production in South Korea, India, and Japan and it is desperate to find other licensees but technology transfer isn’t easy and there are limited supplies of raw materials…
There’s also the revolutionary technology used to manufacture some of the vaccines. The trouble there, again, isn’t patents, but infrastructure:
Pfizer and Moderna had to build factories and distribution systems from scratch. There are no mRNA factories idling on the sidelines. If there were, Moderna or Pfizer would be happy to license since they are producing in their own factories 24 hours a day, seven days a week (monopolies restrict supply, remember?). Why do you think China hasn’t yet produced an mRNA vaccine? Hint: it isn’t fear about violating IP. Moreover, even Moderna and Pfizer don’t yet fully understand their production technology, they are learning by doing every single day. Moderna has said that they won’t enforce their patents during the pandemic but no one has stepped up to produce because no one else can.
The bottom line:
The US trade representative’s announcement is virtue signaling to the anti-market left and will do little to nothing to increase supply.
What can we do to increase supply? Sorry, there is no quick and cheap solution. We must spend.
That means building factories that can make the new vaccines – something the Biden administration either doesn’t understand or refuses to acknowledge.
But they’ve got the virtue signal thing down pat.