By Ryan J. Owens
The Biden administration’s adherence to progressive extremism is harming public safety. On May 5, the administration jeopardized the country’s future health when it declared it would ignore the intellectual property rights of the companies that created COVID-19 vaccines. The long-term consequences of this ideological and reckless decision will be far-reaching unless we put a stop to it.
Typically, when a company develops a product, it owns the rights associated with that product. Pursuant to the World Trade Organization agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, foreign governments cannot copy the product or pass it off as their own.
In fact, member nations must grant patent owners the exclusive right to create and sell their products, and they must protect the “recipe” used to create patented vaccines.
But the Biden administration has said it will not protect those rights for the companies that created the COVID-19 vaccines. It chose to waive the companies’ intellectual property rights, essentially allowing other countries to learn how to make the vaccines themselves.
The consequences of the administration’s reckless actions will be devastating to American health (to say nothing of the jobs lost).
The administration’s actions will cause future researchers to be less likely to invest in researching new vaccines and other therapies that improve public health. The people who research and create vaccines are altruistic but are also motivated by a desire to earn a fair return on their work. Without the reward that holding the patent offers, there is little incentive for them to take the financial risks to research in the first place.
Not only will this inhibit research into specific health issues, it will also make unintended discoveries less likely as well. For instance, research on the COVID-19 vaccine appears to have generated ameliorative drugs and possibly even vaccines for other serious illnesses. Remove the incentive to make lifesaving products and you take away the products themselves.
The administration’s stated rationale for throwing these successful American companies under the bus was that doing so would make it easier to disseminate vaccines to poorer countries. But that rationale is a lie. The U.S. government could distribute vaccines to poorer countries without abrogating intellectual property rights. It could simply purchase the vaccines and provide them to other countries.
The administration seems to have no problem spending trillions of dollars these days. Why not simply purchase the vaccines and send them abroad?
The administration has doubled down on “equity” and a hatred for capitalism. Those two beliefs are killing our country’s health, success, and morale.
The Biden administration sees this pandemic as a way to introduce more radical components of equity into public health. To underscore the point, one public health expert recently stated: “Existing [vaccine] distribution has reflected racial disparities within the United States and even starker inequities abroad, with only 0.2% of doses administered in low-income countries.”
In other words, the administration has forfeited these companies’ rights—and our future health—to make up for the fact that low-income countries need the vaccine.
If this rationale sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same rationale left-wing public health experts used to distribute the vaccine (inefficiently) in America. As I recently wrote in National Review:
Radicals pursuing a dangerous social-justice agenda have argued that the government should refuse to vaccinate older white people (who are at greatest risk of death because of their age) in favor of others because whites have ‘benefited from racism.’
One ‘expert’ on ethics and health policy at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics stated: ‘Society is structured in a way that enables [white people] to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.’
In other words, we should let older people die or contract the virus because they are white.
The most obvious response to this overreach is to challenge the administration’s actions in court. Here, as elsewhere, state attorneys general can be effective. The pharmaceutical companies surely will sue the federal government to protect their interests. The states should weigh in on their side in order to protect their citizens’ health.
States can file “friend of the court” briefs along the way to inform judges and justices of the dire consequences the president’s actions impose. They can highlight the legal violations the administration engaged in. And they can reveal the depth of public support for future lifesaving medicine.
Pandemics are worldwide. Any flare-up in one area of the world can, by definition, travel to other areas. Addressing the broader problems, after first resolving our internal needs, can make sense. But we need not sacrifice our future health as we do so.
The problem is deeper than this one issue. Today’s far-left hates capitalism. It cannot stand that pharmaceutical companies might earn money from creating a valuable product. It also believes America is systematically racist and needs leveling down to reach justice. As we are now seeing, those beliefs are dangerous and put all our health at risk.
Let’s hope at least some of our elected leaders have the common sense to oppose these moves.