What can Biden's vaccine patent waiver plan achieve?

US President Joe Biden has triggered a global debate with his proposal to temporarily lift patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has indicated that the EU is ready to discuss the proposal, but stressed that allowing exports was the key measure for the time being. Europe's commentators also discuss how vaccines can best be distributed fairly.

Open/close all quotes
Novi list (HR) /

Show social responsibility

Not only lavish government funding should oblige companies to put research results at the service of humanity, demands Novi list:

“The vaccine should be a public good, but profit is more important to many companies than people's health. The question is to what extent private companies can be considered the 'owners' of the vaccines after numerous states gave them public money - at least 8.5 billion US dollars for research, development and testing of the vaccines. All companies should accept a minimal profit and demonstrate the 'social responsibility' they so often boast about in the pandemic.”

Polityka (PL) /

No other solution in sight

Polityka sees no real alternative to the suspension of patent protection:

“If humanity really wants to defeat coronavirus, intensive vaccination must take place in developing countries too. Without some kind of breakthrough, nothing will move forward for the time being. And at the moment there is no other solution than to release the patents for the vaccines.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Distribute more honestly

Beyond the patent dispute, measures are needed that have a quick impact, De Volkskrant stresses:

“Waiving patent rights is not a miracle cure that will solve the acute shortage of vaccines in poor countries. Setting up new production facilities in Africa and Asia takes a lot of time. In the short term, vaccines need to be distributed in a more honest way around the world. First of all, the US must lift its ban on vaccine exports, but Europe must also do more than it has done so far. And not just for moral reasons: if the virus is allowed to go on spreading in Africa, Asia and South America, new and dangerous variants could also reach the West and put public health at risk.”

Politiken (DK) /

Once again exemplary

Politiken is full of praise for Biden's initiative:

“The good of humanity must take precedence over profit in this case. President Biden launching the US into this fight does great credit to him and his administration. Once again, America's new political leadership has surpassed Europe in terms of a progressive agenda. So far the EU has opposed the waiving of patent protection; Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has merely cautiously stated that the bloc is willing to discuss the US proposal. ... In the 1990s and at the beginning of the millennium, patents delayed the provision of drugs against HIV in poor countries - costing millions of lives. We must make sure that history does not repeat itself.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

Not as selfless as it may seem

Biden's advance is also driven by geopolitical interests, writes the Tagesspiegel:

“The US is accumulating international political capital for the 'conflict of systems' with China. Like Russia, China is using the pandemic to pursue a kind of vaccine diplomacy. Unlike the US, the country is exporting some of its Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines and splashing it all over the media. ... By advocating the waiving of patents, the US is showing solidarity with poorer countries, also in Africa, which are part of the Chinese (health) Silk Road. For the US, this is also an opportunity to deepen its relationship with India, which put forward the proposal for waivers.”

L'Opinion (FR) /

Goodbye, innovation!

L'Opinion warns:

“The abolition of patent protection could have a catastrophic effect: it could scare capital away from research. Who would want to risk investing hundreds of millions in the development of a molecule if they are deprived of any returns in the event of success (which is less frequent than failure)? The argument is hard to make in France, where money is frowned upon, especially if it has been earned 'with people's health'. The Covid-19 vaccines are creating a few billionaires? They've saved tens of thousands of lives and will soon bring back our freedom! If we apply anti-wealth morality to the pharmaceutical industry, the day will come when we'll have to say goodbye to innovative cures.”

Protagon.gr (GR) /

Waiving patent rights only the first step

The know-how for producing a vaccine is much more important than the patents, writes the web portal Protagon:

“India or South Africa, which say they can produce the vaccine, encounter scepticism in the European press; after all, it takes years to create a production line. That being said, it is absolutely necessary to find a solution. Even if we ignore the humanitarian aspect, if poor countries remain unprotected they'll become reservoirs for viral mutations. So patents alone are not enough, they'd be nothing more than a flash in the pan. What's key is the transfer of know-how. And let's not forget, we're dealing with pharmaceutical companies, not charities.”

Cinco Días (ES) /

This will take too long

Cinco Días interposes that lifting patent protection won't do much to speed up the global distribution of vaccines:

“One of the problems is the institution that is supposed to implement it, the WTO [from which the proposal to waive patent rights originally came], whose notoriously slow pace could delay the decision until the pandemic has long since passed into the annals of history. In addition, there is the contradictory behaviour of some states which publicly support the initiative while at the same time opposing vaccine exports. ... The quickest and most flexible option would be to work towards an agreement between the pharmaceutical companies with patent rights and other laboratories in order to speed up vaccine production and at the same time lift export restrictions. But this requires the willingness of the companies and effective political backing.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Innovation must not be jeopardised

Corriere della Sera is against the move, warning that patent protection protects research:

“Research requires huge investments, and targeting the fruits of these investments risks diminishing the willingness of the most advanced pharmaceutical industries to conduct research. ... The goal of keeping research profits in check and avoiding any speculation can be achieved through appropriate taxation. Moreover, drug prices are subject to approval by public authorities. All the large pharmaceutical companies have accounting analysis systems that make it possible to calculate their investments in research and the costs of a single drug, and thus to set fair and differentiated prices for poor countries.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Finance research for affordable products

Stopping the spread of the virus in poor countries as well as rich ones will require investment in vaccines that don't need special storage and are easily transported, La Repubblica stresses:

“If we don't invest in research into innovative and affordable vaccines, entire regions of the world will be excluded from the freedom of life. They will not be able to fight the spread of viruses. And the more advanced parts of the world will be negatively impacted, as we are already seeing, because nowadays we're all interconnected. Investing towards this goal can save many people from dying. It will be an act of justice. A service to all humanity. We can do it now or we can wait for the next pandemic.”