Do we solve COVID by removing Big Pharma’s patents?
Updated: Apr 6
With India and China lamenting the patents protecting the research done by Big Pharma on the COVID-19 vaccines, nations worldwide are contesting a monumental debate that could decide the outcome of COVID-19 in many countries. The biggest issue of contention is America’s decision to block exports of key-raw materials required for vaccine production. Alongside this, Big pharma (J&J, Pfizer, Moderna etc.) has restricted access to their research and data through a series of patents and filings which protect them from rivals. India and South Africa are leading a group of nations demanding that such access be allowed as it lies in the best interest of humanity. Many other countries rallying support too have expressed merit in the decision as they argue that doing so would help contain the ravaging pandemic in the Indian sub-continent which could further spread and affect all of them. Being an Indian, many would assume my allegiance to my nation’s arguments but no, I beg to differ.
I am cognizant and aware of the situation in my country and while it is worse than many imagined I don’t believe that our demands are the ideal solutions to this problem. This is because while it may prove to our benefit it will result in financial downside for many more out there. This is because if the patents are temporarily declared invalid then the companies holding them would lose out on billions of dollars worth of research. Having poured billions into developing their vaccines the big pharma stands to gain a lot of wealth for the millions of American and global citizens who have their savings, pensions, retirements and the likes indirectly or directly invested in these companies. For example, 69 % of Johnson & Johnson’s shares are held by institutions that manage the money of average Americans and citizens across the globe. Now, any invalidation of these patents will devalue the businesses on account of the potential losses and result in their ROE capsizing. This, in conjunction with the losses incurred from the potential copying of research by rivals and lost sale opportunity, will cause the stock to plummet. This would then directly or indirectly hurt the earnings and wealth of citizens across the globe. The one thing Big Pharma could potentially do is give manufacturing rights to Indian manufacturers at rock-bottom royalty rates. This gesture would not only help Indians gain access to the vaccine but also save Big pharma from losing out on billions of dollars. This way we would they would not do justice to their obligation to their shareholders but also to humanity at large.
Many would still say that life matters more than the net worth of a few but the fact is that even if the patents are removed there is no guarantee that vaccine production would increase. Serum and Bharat Biotech have made it abundantly clear they have no spare capacity and the earliest they can come up with a new batch of vaccines is not before July. Now, in this case, how does one expect the research conducted by big pharma to prove helpful in curtailing this pandemic. Yes, the research would help create alternative production lines but the fact of the hour is that nothing can happen in less than a month even in the best-case estimates. By this time Serum and Bharat Biotech themselves would be ready with their new shipments which could be shipped and to be shipping a new vaccine alongside them would just create mass confusion amongst the public.
It has taken effort and time to convince the public that either of the vaccines can help protect them and that none is inferior to the other but with the addition of a third or fourth vaccine to the fray there would be mass hysteria. It is a commonly known fact that Indians have a foreign complex which makes them partial towards anything developed and sold by foreign brands. If we start producing an American vaccine people would simply be unwilling to accept the other two vaccines. Yes, most might not fall to this notion considering the precarity of the situation but hey, it’s just a thought. Also, once the public gets wind of those American vaccines having a higher efficacy than Covishield and Covaxin they would simply just not accept them.
The government cannot afford to play its cards wrong as it has run out of wild cards to protect itself from potential missteps. The next decision by Modi would potentially decide the future course of his political career as the Indian public has had enough with him. They will not tolerate any more antics from his side and it is only a matter of time before they become fed up and resort to absolutely unlawful measures to protect themselves from the virus. 2 years we would never have imagined such a state of mass panic, hysteria and euphoria in our nation all on accounts of a health emergency. The state today is sad and one which we all need to fight with all our might and strength.