US President Joe Biden’s support for international talks on waiving vaccine protection for COVID-19 vaccines not only surprised his EU counterparts but also angered some players in the pharmaceutical industry.
The US announcement has come at a time when India is witnessing large-scale devastation brought on by the second wave of COVID-19, which has severely impacted its healthcare system and economy.
The move to waive patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines has irked the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), and in a statement on Wednesday, 5 May stated that the “unprecedented step will undermine our global response to the pandemic and compromise safety”.
“This decision will sow confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already strained supply chains, and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines,” the PhRMA statement read.
Patent Waiver Threatens Disruption of Flow of Raw Materials: Pfizer CEO
Shares of vaccine manufactures Pfizer and Moderna along with BioNTech, all shed billions in market valuation on Wednesday as news broke on Biden’s vaccine patent position. According to a Forbes report, Pfizer and Moderna were respectively down 3.45% and 3.19% in premarket trading on Thursday, 6 May.
In an open letter to the employees on 7 May, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla spoke on the proposed waiver. He said, “Infrastructure is not the bottleneck for us manufacturing faster. The restriction is the scarcity of highly-specialised raw materials needed to produce our vaccine,” he said.
“The proposed waiver for COVID-19 vaccines threatens to disrupt the flow of raw material. It will unleash a scramble for the critical inputs we require in order to make a safe and effective vaccine. Entities with little or no experience in manufacturing vaccines are likely to chase the very raw materials we require to scale our production, putting the safety and security of all at risk,” Bourla’s letter read.
BioNTech and CureVac, two German manufacturers, are down 16.9% and 15.49% respectively.
"Patents are not the limiting factor for the production or supply of our vaccine. They would not increase the global production and supply of vaccine doses in the short and middle term," said Germany's BioNTech, which aims to supply up to three billion doses together with Pfizer NSE 0.23 % this year.
Will the Vaccine Patents Be Waived Immediately?
The patents will not be waived immediately since the final decision rests upon the members of the WTO. If the waivers are lifted, it will signal a shot in the arm for India’s vaccination drives and help scale up production to meet the demand of vaccines.
According to a Washington Post report dated 1 May, the final agreement could differ significantly from the current proposal and deliberation could fall apart entirely.