Via America’s Lawyer: President Biden invokes the Defense Production Act to supercharge the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. But could the general public be caught in the middle of a patent war within Big Pharma? RT Correspondent Brigida Santos joins Mike Papantonio to discuss how 100 countries around the world insist the World Trade Organization waive patent rights to streamline vaccine production, which the U.S. and E.U. oppose.
*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.
Mike Papantonio: President Joe Biden has invoked the defense production act to boost vaccine production and distribution, but will greedy pharmaceutical companies, will they get in the way? Brigida Santos joins me now to discuss that. Brigida, my call on this is absolutely the drug companies will get in the way, no matter what Biden tries to do. He’s on the right track here too. We’ve done three stories tonight, all of them he’s on the right track. He’s on the right track here, but the problem is, do we have these drug companies that are going to get in his way? What’s your take?
Brigida Santos: Yeah, of course. Look, there’s no direct mention of vaccine patents in the executive order that was signed by president Biden. Now the defense production act helps the federal government secure supplies to curb the spread of COVID-19, which would include things like protective gear, medical equipment and of course vaccines. Now, when it comes to the latter, the government could invoke the government patent use law to use pharmaceutical companies intellectual property, without permission, as long as those companies are paid reasonably. Now, the US government agencies have already given the vaccine maker Moderna two and a half billion dollars to develop its successful mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The government has also helped fund AstraZeneca’s vaccine. And while Pfizer claims it hasn’t accepted any money from the federal government to develop its coronavirus treatment, Public Citizen reports that Pfizer is using a spike protein technology that was developed by the US government. Now this matters because Pfizer has overcharged American taxpayers for the 200 million doses of its treatment that were purchased by the US government. So these patent issues are getting in the way.
Mike Papantonio: Out of every company you’ve just mentioned, Pfizer is the one that scares the bejesus out of me only because I’ve been to trial with them so many times. I know how they’re corporate, I know how it works at Pfizer. It’s all about profits. You pointed out taxpayers paid for the basic part of the Pfizer program even though they say we didn’t take any money from taxpayers, that’s ridiculous. At least the other companies will own up to the fact, yes, we’ve taken money. I think where we’re probably, this is just a guess, my, my guess is Moderna will show some leadership here, I hope. Have any pharmaceutical companies agreed to waive vaccine patents during the pandemic at this point?
Brigida Santos: Yeah. Moderna, Pfizer and AstraZeneca have vowed not to enforce their patent rights during the pandemic, but they and their manufacturers are not sharing information with other production houses about how to actually make these vaccines. That is the real problem. On paper it looks like they’re not waging an intellectual property fight, but behind the scenes, they’re keeping their methods secret so that competing manufacturers can’t develop generic vaccines based on their own. Now these vaccines aren’t exactly easy to make. While Moderna and Pfizer’s mRNA vaccines are a little bit easier to manufacture than AstraZeneca’s, it still requires highly specialized manufacturers. So the world health organization has only approved 43 companies to manufacture vaccines and even with the defense production act expanding that, it’s still going to take a very long time to produce enough vaccines to curb the virus, especially if these pharmaceutical companies and their manufacturers are refusing to share information about how to actually make these treatments.
Mike Papantonio: Okay. This is, this is a big test for Biden. This is a huge test for Biden. He knows he can do something about the patent issue by just basically it looks like an executive order. He knows he can do something. The question is, will he do it? I’m hoping he will because if we see that side of Biden, I, it’s just going to be a glorious four years. So how are vaccine patents preventing poor countries from accessing COVID-19 treatments? They’re doing it on purpose, it appears to me.
Brigida Santos: Well, vaccine patents are basically creating an artifi, creating artificial scarcity on a global scale and leaving poor people in those poor countries to die. A coalition of 100 countries led by diplomats from South Africa and India are now calling on the world trade organization to waive patents related to COVID-19 during the pandemic, specifically so poor countries can make their own generic vaccines. But unfortunately the United States led by president Biden and the EU have pushed back against the proposal and a majority of the world.
Mike Papantonio: Yeah.
Brigida Santos: Basically arguing that patents and the profits they generate are the key to innovation. Public health advocates have also called on wealthy countries to donate or sell vaccines to poor countries.
Mike Papantonio: It’s early still, Brigida, I’m holding out hope that Biden will push through this hold that the drug industry has on every bit of Washington, DC. I’m really holding out for that. We’re going to do this story on a regular basis to see if he caves in. I’m hoping he doesn’t. Thank you for joining me. Okay.
Brigida Santos: Anytime Mike.