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Debate: Should we waive COVID-19 vaccine patents for low-income countries? | Pro/Con

We recently reached a grim milestone: Five million people around the world have now died of COVID-19. And vaccination rates are not keeping pace with the virus’ global death march, as less than 4% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose.

In the search for solutions, some — including President Biden — have proposed lifting patents on vaccines, so developing countries could make vaccines themselves. But the process is not as simple as a green light at a traffic stop, and there are other barriers and potentially downstream effects to consider.

We asked two experts to weigh in: Should we waive vaccine patents for low-income countries?


No: Waivers won’t help low-income nations, and would hurt the U.S. economy

By Heath Naquin

It’s easy to search for a quick fix when something goes wrong. It’s our natural response as humans to let emotions cloud our decision making. Fear of the unknown is too much for our brains to grasp, and we’ve spent the better part of two years staring at a daily stream of unknowns — not to mention massive death totals, upended economies, and collapsing healthcare systems.

For that reason, I can understand why the Biden administration has supported the idea of waiving intellectual property (IP) rights on key components of the COVID-19 vaccines. After all, if everyone had the recipe to create these vaccines, it would solve our global vaccine equity issues, expedite vaccine development, and finally put an end to the pandemic, right?

Unfortunately, no matter how well-intended this solution may be, it’s a drastic oversimplification that creates more issues than it solves. If companies were to waive their patent protection, vaccinations wouldn’t increase in the developing world, which would still face logistical barriers and lack of resources. More important, such a move will devalue the intellectual economy in the U.S.

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Kristen Fitch

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