The Greek CEO of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, Albert Bourla, expressed his opposition to the proposed waiving of coronavirus vaccine patents on Thursday.
The proposal to waive coronavirus vaccine patents is historically significant, and was first proposed by the World Trade Organization. The idea was subsequently endorsed by US president Joe Biden on Wednesday.
Pfizer against waiving vaccine patents
Pharmaceutical companies working on vaccines have reported steep revenue and profit gains during the crisis. They are unanimously against the waiving of coronavirus vaccine patents.
Bourla echoed the standard pharmaceutical company line, stating that the existence of patents was not the main reason for slow production, and that allowing other companies to manufacture their vaccine could compromise safety.
Pfizer’s vaccine, which was developed with the German company BioNTech, must be manufactured using specific technology, which Bourla says cannot be outsourced:
“The problem is that there are no facilities in the world outside the ones that we can build ourselves, that can make mRNA vaccines.”
The German firm BioNTech also agreed with Bourla, citing issues with production following the waiving of vaccine patents.
These potential issues include complications when setting up new manufacturing plants, difficulties sourcing raw materials and a lack of enough qualified personnel to produce the vaccines.
These roadblocks are already holding up Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine production and would likely worsen if vaccine patents were to be waived, according to the pharmaceutical companies.
These concerns have also been raised by other pharmaceutical groups, including the industry’s biggest lobby group.
The lobby warned that President Biden’s unprecedented step to waive vaccine patents would undermine the companies’ response to the pandemic and compromise safety.
“This decision will sow confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already strained supply chains and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines,” a statement from Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America reads.
Greek government responds
Government officials responded to the proposal by saying that the proposal for the use of patents as a global good was first made by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on April 6, 2020.
Mitsotakis then followed this up with his speech on May 4, 2020, at the Coronavirus Donor Conference, in the context of the international initiative Coronavirus Global Response, in which he stated:
“Discovering and proving the effectiveness of a vaccine will be one of the main challenges. But that alone is not enough. The vaccine must be produced in sufficient quantities in the shortest possible time. It must be available, at an affordable price, to the entire world population, starting with the most vulnerable. It must be distributed worldwide equally.
“I therefore endorse the call of other leaders who have taken part in this conference that the vaccine – whenever it is invented – should be declared a global public good. I think this is a principle we have to agree on and an important message that we all need to send today.”