Should Patents Get in the Way of Global Healthcare?
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, companies have been racing to create the most effective, low-cost vaccine. Currently, some of the U.S. frontrunners include Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, which have already sold hundreds of millions of vaccines. However, there is increasing pressure and criticism on these companies to give up their patents, or their rights to solely produce and sell their vaccines. This would allow other companies to create the vaccines they invented and sell them to make a profit. Moderna announced that they will give away the patent on their mRNA-based vaccine, but Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have not promised the same. Although making companies who have engineered working COVID-19 vaccines give up their patents may seem like the best way to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines faster, it should not be done as there are various ethical, even dangerous, issues in doing so.
First and foremost, companies should reserve the right to keep what is theirs. These companies have worked tirelessly to invent these vaccines; for the world to take these inventions away from their creators would be unfair. Companies like Pfizer and Moderna made their vaccines with their own research and technology, and they should not be obligated to give up their hard work for other companies to profit off.
Giving away patents will also increase risks for patients. By increasing the number of companies who manufacture the vaccines, it is more likely that mistakes will be made and some vaccines will cause serious harm to patients. By limiting vaccine manufacturers to a select few companies that have proven to be able to create relatively safe vaccines, unnecessary errors, harm, and deaths can be avoided.
There are concerns, however, that there is a lack of distribution of vaccines in developing countries, as the few companies who manufacture vaccines control the distribution. Although this concern is not unwarranted, removing the patent will actually likely cause the number of COVID-19 vaccines to decline, not increase. This is because some materials used in the vaccines are in high demand, and if every company were to race to create the vaccines, they would be competing against one another for these materials and distribute even fewer vaccines to developing countries than there are right now.
Furthermore, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have pledged not to earn profits on their vaccines until the pandemic ends. These companies understand the need for as many vaccines as possible at this time and the value of human lives over the chance of a big payday. However, by forcing these companies to give away their patents, they will never earn profits they deserve in the future. Since these companies are already sacrificing their profits right now to save the world from the pandemic, they should not be punished with prevention from ever earning profits on their vaccines in the future.
Although keeping the patents may seem to slow down the production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, it is actually the opposite: patents, though not perfect, will likely save the most human lives as possible. Additionally, forcing companies to remove their patents infringes on their rights to their own inventions, the basis upon which patents were created.
Edited by the Spokesman Editorial Staff