Guest columnist Jaime di Paulo: Patent rights waiver from WHO unneeded, harmful

The United States has long been a leader in the development of new scientific innovations that have not only contributed to vast improvements in global health but also have fostered tremendous economic growth.

The focus on research and development in the United States has directly and indirectly produced approximately 45 million U.S. jobs in all 50 states.

The long-standing public/private collaboration in the U.S. paved the way for the rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic which involved development and delivery of diagnostics, medical equipment, treatments, vaccines, digital tools, as well as an unprecedented information exchange.

The cooperation and collaboration of U.S. companies has broadened and expedited development and manufacturing of new products and services to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Our response to COVID-19 is working, and the world is finally getting back to normal.

Unfortunately, there are efforts under way that will only serve to slow our progress in the short term and make it more difficult to address future pandemics in the long term.

The World Trade Organization could be voting soon on so-called "compromise" language to waive Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to let non-western nations manufacture their own vaccines.

This compromise language is intentionally vague and has broad application and will have disastrous consequences if it is approved.

Waiving IP rights will have a chilling effect on the development of new innovations in the ongoing response to COVID-19. It will especially be problematic for smaller companies that simply cannot afford to invest in new research and risk losing the ability to recoup their investment because their intellectual property rights could be waived.

Waiving IP rights also is risky and potentially dangerous to patients. Manufacturing medicine is complicated. Having the right raw material is critical and any deviation from the original formula could put patients at an unnecessary risk.

Furthermore, there simply is no compelling need to waive IP rights.

According to recent news reports the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has publicly asked for vaccine shipments to stop because of concerns they might expire before they can be used.

If the very countries the IP waiver is supposed to help do not need the help why take the risks that come with the patent waivers?

The truth is there is already a great deal being done to ensure the safe delivery of medicines and vaccines to developing nations such as efforts to address supply chain concerns and the recent agreement to expand manufacturing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region and other initiatives. Progress is being made and IP waivers would impede that progress.

Defeating COVID-19 is a common goal we all sure but stifling innovation and unnecessarily putting patients at risk at a time when developing countries are asking us to pause our vaccine shipments is ill-advised.

I urge the Biden administration to continue to oppose the IP waiver proposal, and to work with allies such as Japan, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Brazil and other nations to stop the WTO "compromise" from being approved.

We must keep moving forward in our efforts to defeat the virus, but if the IP waiver is approved all the momentum we have right now could be lost and we simply cannot afford to lose ground. We need our leaders to do the right thing by opposing the WTO proposal to waive IP rights.

• Jaime di Paulo is president and CEO of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

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