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Giving away the COVID vaccine formula helps no one and harms America

Giving away the COVID vaccine formula helps no one and harms America
© UPI Photo

This month, the United States is expected to reach the point where supply for the COVID-19 vaccine surpasses demand.

While the Biden administration deserves credit for the historic vaccine rollout nationwide, our country is still staring down multiple acute coronavirus-related challenges.

In the short-term, Biden and the unified Democratic government in Washington, D.C. must improve vaccine education. A recent study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 65 percent of Americans now say they have already gotten a vaccine or plan to do so. However, that still leaves one-third of the country that is either not planning to receive a vaccine or is unsure if they will.

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Biden and the Democrats are faced with reversing this widespread unwillingness to receive the vaccine. These steps are critical in order to reach a 70 percent vaccination rate by Independence Day and herd immunity as a result.

In addition, expanding vaccine access globally is a critical short-term priority in order to truly revive our interconnected world and economy.

In the long run, the United States must lead on COVID-19 vaccination and recovery efforts. This includes widespread vaccine distribution, developing advanced approaches to manage COVID-19-related chronic conditions that may arise in recovered adults, and advancing the process for receiving necessary boosters.

To that end, the announcement this week by the Biden administration to give away the formulas for our effective, American-developed vaccines to developing countries, who vastly lack the ability to safely manufacture the billions of doses needed, is a dangerous approach for both our short-term and long-term goals.

At home, if we fail to vaccinate 80 percent of the nation, outbreaks will persist, and hospitals will reach capacity, preventing non-COVID procedures and treatments for millions of Americans. A failure to adequately vaccinate the country will keep us from returning to ordinary life.

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Abroad, the developing world lacks the very manufacturing capabilities needed to accomplish the enormous task of manufacturing the necessary number of doses to vaccinate entire continents. 

Not only do many countries not have the ability to actually produce doses, but Prashant Yadav, a supply chain expert and senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, recently noted that the biggest barriers to increasing the global vaccine supply are the lack of raw materials and production capacity. Yadav explains simply waiving patents “will not get us much benefit in increased manufacturing capacity.”

Several of our key allies also believe manufacturing capacity is the main issue. A spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany clarifies, “The limiting factor in vaccine manufacturing is production capacity and high quality standards, not patents.”

Further, waiving patents for the coronavirus vaccine harms our own vaccine manufacturing, which is the most advanced and capable in the world. For that reason, it will actually harm the distribution of vaccines to the developing world, both right now and over the long-term. 

Considering the foreign policy implications as well, Clete Willems, a former attorney at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative under both the Obama and Trump administrations, posited this week that this move is, “a huge misstep by the Biden Administration that will do nothing to increase vaccine distribution and will endorse China’s ability to piggyback on U.S. innovation to further its vaccine diplomacy aims.” 

Simply put, patents for the coronavirus vaccine will not increase the global vaccination rate in the short-term. And in fact, it hurts U.S. vaccine manufacturing, and so will limit the distribution of vaccines worldwide over the long-term. 

Ultimately, Biden’s proposal worsens the problem it is intended to solve and is detrimental to all global citizens.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael BloombergMichael Bloomberg5 former Treasury secretaries back Biden's plan to increase tax enforcement on wealthy On The Money: Biden ends infrastructure talks with Capito, pivots to bipartisan group | Some US billionaires had years where they paid no taxes: report | IRS to investigate leak Feds looking into release of wealthy Americans' tax info MORE. His new book is “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”