The Biden administration’s support for waiving intellectual-property protections for Covid vaccines is a necessary, though limited, first step toward the more equitable global distribution of shots. Its announcement came as India was experiencing a spike in new infections, with more than 300,000 cases a day in mid-May. At the time, less than 3 percent of India’s 1.35 billion citizens were fully vaccinated, even as the country churned out vaccines for the rest of the world.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” U.S. trade representative Katherine Tai wrote in a statement. “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”
Advocates of the much-debated proposal argue that lifting intellectual-property protections is critical to increasing vaccine access in the developing world, potentially expanding the pool of companies that could produce the shots and making them cheaper in the long term. Critics contend that waiving patent protections disincentivizes innovation and investment in the costly research needed to develop new medical treatments, while doing nothing to actually solve the immediate and complex problem of manufacturing more doses.