July 26, 2021
The New York Times had an article about how Dr. Fauci wants the government to spend several billion dollars developing what he calls “prototype” vaccines. According to the article, the idea is that the vaccine would be developed against a family of viruses. In principle, they could then be quickly modified to protect against specific virus within the family that posed a serious health risk to the world.
Incredibly, the piece literally says nothing about who would own rights to the vaccines. The companies that have gained rights to the coronavirus vaccines, such as Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZenca, have already made billions in profits from these vaccines. They may make tens of billions more in future years, if people need regular booster shots.
Since Dr. Fauci’s proposal seems to imply that the government would be putting up the money to develop these vaccines, and taking the risk of failure, it might be reasonable for the government to have rights to the vaccines. Ideally it would place patent rights in the public domain, both so that scientists around the world can quickly build on the new innovations produced by this research, and so that any vaccines developed can be sold as cheap generics.
If the New York Times took income inequality seriously, it would have spent at least a paragraph or two discussing ownership of this research. Unfortunately, the paper only regards income inequality as a cause for hand-wringing, not a serious policy issue.