•Press Release Government Inequality Intellectual Property
Washington, DC — As the United States approaches a full year of COVID-19-induced lockdowns, the Revolving Door Project and the Center for Economic and Policy Research called on the White House’s COVID-19 task force director Jeffrey Zients to demand that Pfizer, Moderna, and other American pharmaceutical firms open-source their COVID-19 vaccines.
As CEPR Senior Economist Dean Baker wrote last week, the threat of new vaccine-resistant COVID-19 mutations only increases the urgency for vaccine developers to freely share their scientific and manufacturing knowledge. This sharing would not only vaccinate the global population more quickly, it would also naturally help global scientific leaders to discover solutions to any new mutations.
The only thing preventing such free scientific discourse is an artificial profit motive based on patent monopolies, as Baker has written about at length previously. As head of the COVID-19 response team, it falls to Zients to negotiate open-sourcing the American vaccines.
“We have not been shy about criticizing Jeff Zients’ business ties, especially in the health care sector,” said Revolving Door Project Executive Director Jeff Hauser. “This is his one, big opportunity to prove that a White House with close corporate ties can actually be good for the world, and not just an opportunity for capture and corruption. If Zients’ friendliness with C-Suite-types can’t secure the world open access to vaccines against a deadly disease, then what is his much-vaunted ‘private-sector experience’ good for?”
As part of his day one COVID-19 response plan, President Biden called on Zients to “make [COVID-19 and vaccine] data open to the public in human- and machine-readable formats as rapidly as possible,” along with the Directors of the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Chief Technology Officer of the United States. None of these other positions have yet been confirmed by Congress, leaving Zients the only current White House official ordered to review and update information policy related to the vaccines.
Zients could negotiate with pharmaceutical firms to fully disclose the information needed to allow manufacturers in any country to produce any vaccine, without regard to intellectual property claims, and quickly respond to the development of new strains. Each additional infection, no matter where in the world it occurs, creates an additional opportunity for a dangerous COVID-19 mutation. Therefore, every nation and individual has an overriding interest in vaccinating the whole global population as quickly as possible, to suppress mutation opportunities.
“The US should lead the way in proposing that Big Pharma put people’s lives over profit and suspend patent and other intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and test for the duration of the pandemic,” Baker said.