The rich countries ensure that the big pharmaceutical companies based in their countries more or less voluntarily waive the patents on their vaccines, so that the whole world is protected. After all, it is in the interest of everyone, including the better-protected affluent countries, that the pandemic be contained throughout the world. This is in the national as well as the global interest. Even fully vaccinated nations cannot exist without contact in the long term.
However, even in the pandemic, the interests are by no means congruent. This is demonstrated by disputes right up to the EU; when it comes to vaccine distribution, friendship can sometimes come to an end. The gap is wide when it comes to having and not having, to life and death. The accusation that the profits of large corporations are more important than a quick end to the pandemic is not new. India and South Africa applied early to the World Trade Organization to suspend parts of the patent protection until the end of the pandemic. This is to enable developing countries to produce urgently needed vaccines without fear of lawsuits. German patent law also recognizes compulsory licenses in the public interest.
But on the one hand, these are so far only declarations of intent by the U.S. government and the European Commission. On the other hand, one has to ask what is at stake and what such a step would really achieve. The pharmaceutical companies have invested a great deal to produce effective vaccines quickly, even with government subsidies. Their right to intellectual property should not be underestimated.
The incentive to take risks and accomplish such feats must be maintained. Finally, suspending patent protection alone will not achieve anything. Even manufacturing good products under license is not trivial. So far, there is a lack of money and the will to better distribute existing vaccine. Corona will keep the world busy for some time to come. It will require production at more sites. The suspension of patent protection can only be one building block in the quest for a just vaccination world.
Image by Ali Raza