Realist, not conformist analysis of the latest financial, business and political news

Bill Gates Is Actually Right About Patents On Covid Vaccines

Covid 19

One of the joys of this story is that we gain the opportunity to insult Nick Dearden:

Nick Dearden, executive director of Global Justice Now, one of the lead partner groups in an international coalition calling for WTO patent waivers at a crucial meeting of the world body next month, characterized Gates’ remarks — and the ideological framework behind them — as “disgusting.”

“Who appointed this billionaire head of global health?” asked Dearden. “Oh yeah, he did.”

Well, at least he has an actual achievement to his name which seems to beat your qualifications as head of global health.

But to the centre of the issue. The current call from the mouth breathers like Dearden is that all those patents on all those vaccines should be immediately vacated. Because, you know, intellectual property is killing people and all that.

Except that’s not actually the problem at all:

“Well, there’s only so many vaccine factories in the world and people are very serious about the safety of vaccines. And so moving something that had never been done — moving a vaccine, say, from a [Johnson & Johnson] factory into a factory in India — it’s novel — it’s only because of our grants and expertise that that can happen at all.”

The reference is to the Serum factory in India, the largest such institute in the country, which has contracts with AstraZeneca to manufacture their COVID-19 vaccine, known internationally as Covishield.

The thing that’s holding “things back” in terms of the global vaccine rollout, continued Gates, “is not intellectual property. It’s not like there’s some idle vaccine factory, with regulatory approval, that makes magically safe vaccines. You know, you’ve got to do the trial on these things. Every manufacturing process needs to be looked at in a very careful way.”

The current shortage is of two things. Firstly, space in a vaccine factory which can then make covid vaccines. Secondly, competence at making covid vaccines. Neither of these problems are solved by vacating patents.

The bit that really means that Dearden can go boil his head is that any factory which does have space and is competent can gain access to all the vaccine IP there is. No one is limiting use of it presently anyway. Dearden’s entire complaint therefore fails – IP may exist, sure, but it’s not the limiting factor here. Making it free wouldn’t;t change the current world’s availability of vaccines one iota.

Of course, vacating the patents that peeps have just spent a few billions and then some in gaining would limit the number of vaccines we ever get in the future but then Dearden clearly believes there never will be any other disease that humans wish to control. Ever. Must be so otherwise he’d not want to cripple the method used to deal with them, would he?

2.3 3 votes
Article Rating
Total
0
Shares
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
20 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Spike
Spike
13 days ago

Sure, vaccine production is slowed by technical problems, but that last paragraph is the key: No one, not people, not corporations, will stay in vaccine development if the world’s swells take away the possibility of financial gain should they devise the next blockbuster drug. This was exactly the point of that fable about killing a goose “to get more” golden eggs.

Thomas Knapp
13 days ago

Of course, vacating the patents that peeps have just spent a few billions and then some in gaining”

In the US at least, other than Pfizer, those billions were spent by the US government itself. The state funded the research as corporate welfare. Even if the state is going to stick to the evil fiction of “intellectual property,” why should the welfare queens get the fake property rights in addition to the welfare checks AND the initial profits from being first to market?

Thomas Knapp
12 days ago
Reply to  Tim Worstall

Well, there are two separate issues here. One is that there’s no such thing as “intellectual property” — it’s merely a state-granted monopoly with no basis in actual property rights. Which would mean that no, the Pfizer patent shouldn’t stand either. The other is that with the exception of Pfizer, in the US at least, the companies developing vaccines all got big fat checks from the US government TO develop those vaccines, plus guaranteed large first orders of the products. Those developers were producing, effectively, works for hire. So even if “intellectual property” wasn’t an invalid anti-concept, the property rights… Read more »

Thomas Knapp
12 days ago
Reply to  Tim Worstall

Not only am I not “with” Dearden, I’ve never heard of Dearden.

I’m not worried about solving “the public goods problem” because <a href=”http://knappster.blogspot.com/2008/11/everybodys-got-one-and-they-all-stink.html”>it’s not a “problem,” it’s just a convenient excuse for coercion.</a>

I prefer free markets to capitalism. Or, to put it a different way, I’m not a capitalist because I’m not a Marxist.

jgh
jgh
12 days ago
Reply to  Thomas Knapp

Free markets is a seperate axis to capitalism. Free markets is how you trade, capitalism is where the capital comes from to create the goods that are (or not) traded. You can have capitalist free markets, capitalist closed markets, socialist free markets, socialist closed markets. You can prefer free markets without being bound on your opinion on capitalism.

Thomas Knapp
12 days ago
Reply to  jgh

Capitalism (as described by Hodgskin, coined by Thackeray, and popularized by Marx) is a mixed, state-regulated, industrial economy. Any free markets that pop up within capitalism are free for exactly as long as they avoid the attention of the state.

Barks
Barks
12 days ago
Reply to  Tim Worstall

Of course the companies own the patents. The government contracted to have the companies not do some other work and to devote their limited resources to this covid business. The companies built upon other research they’d been doing and produced the vaccines. And yes, the government had diddled around in this technology. Said diddling doesn’t rise to ownership.

john77
john77
12 days ago
Reply to  Thomas Knapp

Actually anyone in the USA looking at the media knows that Dolly Parton part-funded the development of the Moderna vaccine before the USA government spent a dime on it.
Your only excuse could be that you have never lived in the USA and never look at its mainstream media.

Thomas Knapp
12 days ago
Reply to  john77

If I needed an excuse — I don’t — my excuse would be that I’ve lived in the USA for 54 years and that I spend eight hours or so per day looking at mainstream media worldwide.

Thomas Knapp
12 days ago
Reply to  Thomas Knapp

And if you actually read beyond the headlines, you’d know that Parton made a $1 million donation to Vanderbilt University for general COVID-19 research purposes, and that Moderna then received 2500 times as much from the US government to develop the specific product in question.

Anteros
Anteros
12 days ago
Reply to  Thomas Knapp

Your comments improve and broaden the commentary here. Stick around.

Thomas Knapp
12 days ago
Reply to  Anteros

Glad you like them. I read CT every day, but only comment occasionally.

john77
john77
12 days ago
Reply to  Thomas Knapp

Any government funding of Moderna was after it patented its mRNA vaccine. The initial funding of the Oxford/AZ vaccine was by Oxford University itself, BioNTech is a German company and Pfizer only became involved after it had developed the vaccine. J&J is still working its way through approva.
So which patent was funded by the US government? Spunik V?

Boganboy
Boganboy
13 days ago

I’d always understood that international law looked leniently on breaches of medical patents. The problem is that when you do this, and your drug industry grows, the other countries won’t observe your patents.

Though I agree that I’ve never heard about covid vaccine production having any problem with IP.

Addolff
Addolff
12 days ago

Benificent Bill:

  1. “You know, you’ve got to do the trial on these things” – except the vaccines themselves obviously.
  2. “Every manufacturing process needs to be looked at in a very careful way” – ”https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/31/us/politics/johnson-johnson-coronavirus-vaccine.html.

If the US can screw up the production of this stuff what are the odds against a third world shithole doing something similar?

Leo Savantt
Leo Savantt
12 days ago

Patents of course are not the whole story. Pfizer is charging the EU over £15 per dose on a profit making basis, AstraZeneca only £1.56 on a not for profit basis.

craig
craig
12 days ago

A middle ground on patents depending on the totality of the circumstances it the concept of ‘compulsory licensing’

Clarence S
Clarence S
7 days ago

Interesting article! I came here because it was very difficult to find an opposing view to the popular trope of Bill Gates being evil. The article instead gave a heavy condemnation of this Dearden character and not the type of vaccine ‘ethics v. profits’ discussion I expected. Bill Gates’ answer, to me, seems like a practical or pragmatic concern. All the rest is hubbub.

20
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x