Why intellectual property rights are a key, not a curse, for COVID-19 vaccines

The whole world is waiting for the distribution of vaccines against COVID-19 and should be distributed to all adults globally over the next 18 months. Calls are getting louder that intellectual property rights (IPR) should be suspended to allow unfettered vaccine manufacture will mean faster access for developing countries. The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, gave tacit support this week, warning of a “catastrophic moral failure” caused by unequal access to COVID vaccines. However, IP has played a vital role in every step of vaccine research, manufacturing and distribution. The Pfizer/BioNtech partnership behind the first vaccine to be authorised in the US would not have taken place without strong IP rights.

In a competitive market, no single company will monopolise COVID vaccines or succeed in “profiteering”. A zero IP world would be a backward step and discourage companies from making urgently needed refinements to existing vaccines to combat new COVID-19 variants.

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