Germany has rejected the US proposal to waive intellectual property (IP) protections for COVID-19 vaccines, saying such a waiver would create ‘severe complications’ for the production of new vaccines.
What is the argument for IP waiver?
The supporters of the waivers argue that the it can lead to a ramping up of production and save lives in developing nations suffering from a surge in infections. About a hundred countries out of 164 who are World Trade Organization (WTO) members are known to be in the favour of IP waiver. The United States has backed the waiver proposal but temporally.
What is Germany’s position?
The Left or Die Linke, a German Party proposed to make the vaccines IP free, but it was opposed in the German Bundestag. 117 German lawmakers voted in the favour of the proposal, 498 opposed and one was absent. German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, who was the only one from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling center-right Christian Democratic Union party to vote in favour of the proposal, later said that he had mistakenly voted in favour of the proposal.
Why is Germany against the proposal?
Germany paid its pharma company BioNTech 500 million euros to develop the vaccine. BioNTech then collaborated with US pharma giant Pfizer to create the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine called Comirnaty. The vaccine is sought around the world as it is made with the mRNA technology, which does away with injecting viruses in the human body as seen in other non mRNA vaccines. The vaccine has received full approval in Brazil, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland, and emergency approval in 95 countries.
Not just Germany, many European Union (EU) leaders and pharmaceutical companies are against the IP waiver and are in favour of less financially disruptive ways of combatting the pandemic and boosting vaccine distribution.
What is BioNTech’s proposal?
The pricing has turned off the potential sales of Comirnaty. Pfizer’s chief executive Albert Bourla is on record saying that the “low- and middle-income countries had opted not to order the company’s anti-COVID vaccine.”
However, BioNTech says that patent enforcements help policing the vaccine quality. A company spokesperson told the German News agency DPA that IP protection is “not the limiting factor for production or supply of our vaccine.”
BioNTech has proposed to lower the prices of the vaccine to the poor countries. As per the Spokesperson, BioNTech plans to supply vaccines to poorer countries at “a price that is not profit oriented.”
“To achieve this, governments, manufacturers and international and national organizations must work together to support the supply of low- and lower-middle-income countries from the existing production sites and help to identify new certified sites,” said BioNTech spokesperson.
Does BioNTech’s proposal help?
BioNTech and Pfizer estimate to manufacture about 2.5 billion doses of the vaccine in 2021. BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin, who spoke at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit, said “We need to ensure really high vaccination rates worldwide. Otherwise, no one will be safe.”
But the production is not enough to meet the scale of supplies and BioNTech plans “manufacturing alliance of more 30 companies in order to produce more vaccines.”
What is the other way?
Mixing and matching vaccines is another way to address the vaccine shortages says chief medical BioNTech expert Özlem Türeci. Mixing and matching has already been tested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and has so far allowed a combination of only two vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna in ‘exceptional situations’.
“The more vaccines we have available, the better…We can obviously mix and match them in principle. Because at the end of the day, we want to achieve herd immunity. We want to achieve as many vaccinated people as possible,” says Özlem Türeci