President Biden Again Tries to Undermine U.S. Biomedical Innovation | Citizens Against Government Waste

President Biden Again Tries to Undermine U.S. Biomedical Innovation

The WasteWatcher

Over the last 15 months, President Biden has taken steps to undermine U.S. global leadership on  biopharmaceutical research and development. From his initial price control proposals to their inclusion in the Build Back Better Act and the new proposed language for the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver for COVID-19 vaccines. India, South Africa, the EU, and the United States have come to a tentative agreement and the draft language is awaiting approval from all 164 members of the World Trade Organization. After months of negotiations this “compromise” puts U.S. innovation at risk and does little to address the real underlying issues stalling COVID-19 vaccination rates globally.

The TRIPS waiver language is strongly supported by the two nations that originated the petition India and South Africa. They claimed that the vaccines’ intellectual property (IP) rights is creating barriers to access. This claim has long been proven false. The Africa CDC recently asked that COVID-19 vaccines be paused because they are unable to distribute donated vaccine supplies quickly enough. The Serum Institute of India, the largest vaccine manufacturer worldwide, has also halted COVID-19 vaccine production because market demand is down. Furthermore, the biopharmaceutical industry is on pace to produce more than 20 million COVID-19 vaccines in 2022. There is an abundance of vaccines available because of the IP protections that led to these discoveries. 

If the goal is to increase access to current and future medicine, then the proposed TRIPS waiver language, which strips IP protections, will do more harm than good by hindering future healthcare development, and risking more government involvement in healthcare. Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has been a strong proponent of IP rights, which are protected under Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the Constitution granting Congress the enumerated power “To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.” 

CAGW President Tom Schatz expressed his concern over the fragility of IP rights in an April 26, 2021 blog, “All Nations Must Respect and Protect Intellectual Property Rights.” Combatting the wide international disrespect for IP, including theft and attempted IT theft by other countries, is particularly important for life-saving vaccines and medicines, including those that have saved millions of lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. should never support policies like the proposed changes to the TRIPS waiver agreement, which would forfeit valuable patent rights and turn them over to global competitors.

Rather than forced and uncompensated sharing of IP, the WTO should work on improving infrastructure and distribution, which has limited access to the vaccine in many countries. A lack of resources for refrigeration technology and physical transportation has a far greater impact on drug and vaccine distribution in those countries regardless of where the vaccines are manufactured. A rollback of customs processes and restrictions could make it easier to deliver vaccines across borders, making them more accessible. The root problem for what is being called vaccine inequity is not existing IP protections and laws. The fundamental issue of access to vaccines remains with the infrastructure and delivery systems of the vaccines, not with the manufacturing process and IP rights. Countries with limited resources should seek help in educating the public on the importance of getting vaccinated, developing improved vaccine storage and delivery processes, and administering the vaccines in a timely manner. The TRIPS waiver will not solve these problems. 

President Biden's decision to support the new TRIPS waiver language will undermine the IP of U.S. companies and hinder future vaccine and drug development. It also opens the door for China and Russia, among other countries, to steal U.S. IP and advance their own biopharmaceutical research and development. This is a terrible precedent for the administration to make. The U.S. must do everything possible to protect future drug development and promote innovation,  which will ensure that the next time the world needs life-saving vaccines in record-breaking time, U.S. drug companies can make that happen in a stable environment for research and development. President Biden should reject the TRIPS waiver proposal.

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