Violating rights under the pretext of Covid-19

A cartoon lampooning U.S. President Joe Biden't proposal to suspend vaccine makers patent protection rights
The long-term effect of patent rights removal would be to disincentivize further research (source: GIS)

Against the backdrop of the Covid crisis, United States President Joe Biden initiated a motion to waive patent protection for vaccines worldwide. The measure is supposed to help impoverished societies gain access to vaccines. As much as this approach might, at first glance, seem generous and social-minded, a closer analysis shows it is counterproductive and even dangerous. Vaccine shortages are not caused by limitations related to patent protection. The problem stems from insufficient production capacities and poor logistics in certain parts of the world. And poorer countries are already getting vaccines at low prices thanks to mechanisms created by manufacturers and sponsoring; waiving vaccine patent rights will in no way improve the situation of people in such countries. 

Disincentivizing research

The U.S. president’s waiver move might have another aim: to create a precedent that would eventually allow the dismantling of patent protection for medical products in general. We know that this has been a goal of socialist and globalist movements for some time. The Biden administration may want to use the pandemic to advance this agenda or, at best, is allowing itself to be manipulated. Its officials should know that the long-term effect of removing patent rights would discourage further research. Such counterproductive policies can only be rooted in ill-founded, principalist ideological reasons, eroding all individual property rights.

That is not the first untoward development in the chaotic coronavirus saga. The pandemic has not only been mismanaged but also misused. Governments expanded their powers and furthered policies detrimental to civil liberties. The arbitrary lockdowns, the outsourcing of public officials’ responsibilities to virologists and the curbing of public debate (at least in Europe) on the soundness of the measures taken all amount to an ominous power grab. Scientists who disagreed with official prescriptions were quickly silenced or marginalized.

Governments have also expanded their already outsized role in the economy through enormous spending programs, going far beyond what was needed to mitigate the pandemic’s damage. And now it looks like President Biden may want to limit individual and corporate intellectual property rights under the pretext of fighting the coronavirus.

Astounding omission

As much as one could excuse wrongheaded policies in the first weeks of the pandemic – because governments acted based on incomplete and often erroneous information – their continuing insistence on lockdowns appears odd. We know the enormous collateral damage these measures inflict on personal rights. The draconian restrictions hurt businesses big and small and caused immense psychological damage across the population – from the loneliness of the old to the impaired development of small children in isolation. The World Health Organization just released news that obesity among children increased dramatically because they have been kept at home.

Oddly, governments provided no incentives for developing preventive measures. It has been known for quite some time that the best protection against disease is a healthy population and a lifestyle that naturally strengthens the immune system. The lockdown had the opposite effect. Anxiety and fear undermine the immune system, while physical exercise and good nutrition reinforce it. Locking individuals and families at homes for weeks and months was physically and psychologically counterproductive.

Vaccine procurement and logistics failed in most European countries and Brussels mismanaged it as well. Technocracy and large, unwieldy, overregulated systems are of little help when tackling emergencies. 

While state administrations were increasing their influence and power at the expense of fundamental civil rights, they missed a tremendous opportunity to motivate citizens to adopt a healthier lifestyle so as to become more resilient to this pandemic and those to come. Instead, official communications were chock-full of prohibitions, and the media concentrated on spreading panic. Experts suggesting ways to boost health and immunity were crowded out.

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