Shares in vaccine manufacturers Moderna, Novavax, BioNTech and Pfizer all fell on Wednesday as investors reacted to Joe Biden’s announcement that the US would support lifting intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines.
Until now, governments including the US, the UK, Switzerland and the EU have backed pharmaceutical companies by refusing to give way on intellectual property rights. More than 100 emerging economies first proposed a vaccine patent waiver at the World Trade Organisation in October, rightly fearing vaccines would be hoarded by the wealthy nations that developed them.
Pharma companies argue patent rights are vital to guarantee income from new products – and that if this is undercut, future medical innovations could be inhibited. This is despite the fact that 97 per cent of funding for AstraZeneca’s vaccine was from public and charitable sources, while the mRNA technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines was also largely developed using taxpayer money.
There are increasing concerns that the success of vaccine programmes in wealthy countries will be compromised if Covid-19 is allowed to continue spreading and mutating in other countries.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” said US trade representative Katherine Tai.