Our country’s strong intellectual property framework created a climate of innovation that allowed medical researchers to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in record time. By springing into action during the early days of the pandemic, it made all the difference in slowing this deadly disease.
Unfortunately, the World Trade Organization and a number of international policymakers are currently considering proposals that would erode intellectual property rights, reducing our ability to respond quickly to the next health threat that comes our way.
These efforts would suspend vaccine producers’ rights to things they create – in this case, the design of COVID-19 vaccines – in order to increase vaccination rates. However, the reality is that such policies actually limit access to new treatments and don’t address the real issue at hand.
That’s because the problem isn’t an issue related to production. Manufacturers are producing plenty of vaccines and many are going unused. The current challenge involves distribution and adoption of these vaccines.
It’s hard to imagine but in 2021 alone, over 10 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were produced and the supply is only increasing. In 2022, COVID-19 vaccine production is expected to exceed 20 billion doses, more than enough to vaccinate every adult on the planet.
Although enough vaccines are being produced for everyone who needs one, there aren’t always enough people, resources, or infrastructure available to vaccinate them – especially in hard-to-reach parts of the world. Logistical hurdles, combined with lingering vaccine resistance, are a major reason why approximately 2.6 billion people around the world have yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Proposals that waive intellectual property rights are also sure to create bigger issues down the road. The ability for manufacturers to hold onto intellectual property rights leads to the invention of new treatments and medications. As head of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, I can attest to how crucial patents are for encouraging companies to continue pushing ahead with new research.
Here in Florida, we are fortunate to have some of the most advanced and talented medical researchers in the world – and a business community that encourages the latest innovations in health care research. That research could yield an even better COVID-19 vaccine or a vaccine to defend against other illnesses.
Florida is a leader in health care innovation, with the third-highest number of active clinical trials in the country. Our state contributes immensely to improved medical treatments, and waiving intellectual property protections puts so much of the private sector’s medical development at stake.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we all witnessed pharmaceutical companies work tirelessly to create a vaccine that has unquestionably saved countless lives. To ensure that we remain in a
position to continue developing medical breakthroughs – possibly even the cure for the next global pandemic – we must maintain and protect strong intellectual property rights.
Julio Fuentes is the President and CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.