If we waive intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines, they could be more affordably produced and distributed throughout the developing world. But we would negatively impact future vaccine production.
As economists we have to ask which cost (sacrifice) we are willing to accept.
A country’s Covid resilience depends to a great extent on vaccine markets. In its Covid Resilience Index, Bloomberg divides ten criteria between “Covid Status” and “Quality of Life.” Although the vaccine is just one component, it surely affected the other nine.
Singapore and New Zealand lead a resilience ranking list that the developed nations dominate. The U.S,, the U.K., and Canada are numbers 17, 18, and 19.
For the quality of life criteria, there was more divergence:
Government funding has aways been a part of vaccine markets. By supporting the basic vaccine research that might not pay off, governments made it possible for the private sector to take over when success was more likely. Now, during the pandemic, government was even more dominant through its development funding and purchase guarantees.
It compressed the development time frame to just one year:
Our Bottom Line: Tradeoffs
Now we need to ask if the U.S. government should take the next step.
It can spread the vaccine to developing nations by waiving intellectual property protections. As a result, it could help many millions of people and end the pandemic sooner:
However, the tradeoff takes us to the role of incentives in vaccine markets. An unusually large proportion of economists agree that by removing intellectual property protections, we negatively impact future vaccine development:
Perhaps though, President Harry Truman best summed up the vaccine tradeoff dilemma when he reputedly said, “Give me a one-handed economist. All my economists say ‘on hand…’, then ‘but on the other…”