President Joe Biden is moving to surrender to China U.S. patent and trade secret protections on America's COVID-19 vaccines. Why should the United States support China's biological weapons program to enable another deadly attack? That is exactly what Biden is doing with his proposed TRIPs waiver. (Photo by Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden is moving to surrender to China U.S. patent and trade secret protections on America's COVID-19 vaccines. Two of those vaccines, made by American-based Pfizer and Moderna, employ revolutionary mRNA technology.
Specifically, the Biden administration has agreed to support a request by India and South Africa for waivers that would permit members of the World Trade Organization to not enforce laws protecting patents and trade secrets covered under the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPs).
"This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," declared U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai in a May 5 statement. "The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines."
Yes, extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures, but not extraordinarily ineffective and counterproductive ones. The proposed TRIPs waiver, as it is called, is both.
Proponents of the waiver, who sometimes speak of "vaccine apartheid," argue that intellectual property rules prevent the making of desperately needed vaccines.
Such arguments appear correct on their face but in fact are not. As Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO, explained on May 7 in a LinkedIn post, the "bottleneck" for more vaccines is the "scarcity of highly specialized raw materials needed to produce our vaccine."
A TRIPs waiver will not increase the supply of those materials — Pfizer's vaccine requires 280 materials or components from 19 countries — but it will increase the number of companies that enter the vaccine business. Therefore, the waiver will, as Bourla noted, "unleash a scramble for the critical inputs we require in order to make a safe and effective vaccine." He also issued this warning: "Entities with little or no experience in manufacturing vaccines are likely to chase the very raw materials we require to scale our production, putting the safety and security of all at risk."
There is another issue. Countries will need more than manufacturing facilities, patent waivers, and raw materials to make vaccines. They will need Pfizer's and Moderna's trade secrets, like the so-called "cookbooks." Unless the Biden administration plans to expropriate trade secrets — it is unlikely to do so — most developing world manufacturers will require months and perhaps years to obtain the know-how to actually make mRNA vaccines.
As Senator Ben Sasse, the Nebraska Republican, wrote in a May 17 Wall Street Journal op-ed, "The developing world lacks vaccine manufacturing, storage, and distribution capacities—and none of these problems are solved by an IP giveaway." Sean Lin, a microbiologist and a former lab director of the viral disease branch of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, told Gatestone that the proposed TRIPs waiver "is a nice political gesture."
A TRIPs waiver will not only impede vaccine production at this moment, it will also cause long-term harm. There are two principal concerns in this regard. First, a waiver for COVID-19 vaccines will obviously decrease the incentive for companies to make vaccines for the next disease. "The recent rhetoric will not discourage us from continuing investing in science," wrote Bourla, the Pfizer chief. "But I am not sure if the same is true for the thousands of small biotech innovators that are totally dependent on accessing capital from investors who invest only on the premise that their intellectual property will be protected."
Second, a TRIPs waiver will eliminate the most important of the barriers to China making sophisticated vaccines: patent protection. Reuters reports that the Biden administration does not want a waiver to aid the Chinese pharmaceutical industry and believes it can address this issue "through the WTO negotiations," but unfortunately it "did not specify how."
Of course, the Biden administration cannot stop Chinese companies once patent protection is waived. Furthermore, Beijing is not going to adhere to the terms of the waiver. As Reuters tells us, "Enforcing limits on use of the technology could be very difficult."
"Very difficult"? Make that "impossible."
So the waiver, which will impede the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, will also help Beijing develop China's biotech business, one of the ten sectors originally listed in its WTO-noncompliant Made in China 2025 initiative.
At the moment, China has failed miserably when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. Chinese enterprises have developed five such jabs, but, despite months of head start on the rest of the world, they are barely effective. None of China's vaccines has been proven safe. Beijing has refused to hand over Phase III trial data.
China will be the primary beneficiary of any waiver. As Sean Lin points out, "China does not have any prior experience on industrial-scale production of mRNA vaccines" and a waiver, he says, will encourage more Chinese biotech and pharmaceutical companies to jump into the sector. After all, these enterprises will get years of research and development for free if Biden gets his way.
Chinese ruler Xi Jinping a year ago said China's vaccines would be made available as a "global public good," but Beijing has not made good on this promise.. Instead, China has offered its vaccines to other countries on extraneous and harsh conditions, such as de-recognition of Taiwan or the purchase of 5G networking gear from Huawei Technologies.
Moreover, if the Chinese are able to develop a vaccine industry, they will be more likely to create another disease and spread it, as they maliciously spread SARS-CoV-2, the pathogen causing COVID-19, beyond their borders.
The country almost certainly has a bio-weapons program in contravention of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972. The Communist Party also has a doctrine of "Unrestricted Warfare," and a 2015 book by Chinese military scientists suggests "unrestricted" means exactly that. "The core weapon for victory in World War III will be bioweapons," the authors brag.
So why should the United States support China's biological weapons program to enable another deadly attack? That is exactly what Biden is doing with his proposed TRIPs waiver.
Gordon G. Chang is the author of The Coming Collapse of China, a Gatestone Institute distinguished senior fellow, and a member of its Advisory Board.