The WTO IP waiver for COVID-19 vaccines was never about vaccine distribution—it was a political calculation, according to Hans Sauer, Deputy General Counsel for IP at BIO.
Speaking on the Vital Transformation podcast, Sauer says that American officials perceived the waiver as “a very cheap way of demonstrating goodwill.” Giving away IP was chosen as a preferable option, as the government did not want to share the U.S. vaccine supply with other countries.
Long before COVID-19, there existed a campaign to eliminate IP waivers. During previous crises and breakouts, other “IP critical groups” with their own agendas have requested exemptions, says Sauer.
He warns that the broader waiver in consideration, which would end IP rights for COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics, may be quite extensive. Although the vaccinations are particular to COVID-19, many of the medications that would lose their patents under a broader waiver were originally created to treat other diseases, and their use against COVID-19 was only attempted as an emergency measure.
“This proposition will keep percolating,” warns Sauer, adding that the United States must insist on robust IP protections because other interests will continue to try to get access to patents and trade secrets through the WTO, UN, and WHO.