Calls to release vaccine patents are getting louder.

The United States changed course last week and is now in favor.

The release of the patents could be a solution to the shortage of vaccines, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Yet pharmaceutical companies are against it.


And is that right?

"The decision of the US government to support the release of patents on coronavirus vaccines is disappointing," said the pharmaceutical industry Wednesday after the announcement of the Americans.

The reaction is somewhat remarkable, because previously one organization after another fell over each other to celebrate the change of course of the US.

The pharmaceuticals emphasize that they do support the goal of the decision: to spread corona vaccines around the world as quickly and equally as possible.

However, they argue, releasing the patents is not the right path to the same intended goal.

"The release of the patents for the corona vaccines will not lead to higher production. On the contrary, it may even lead to disruption," said interest group International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA).

She says the problems in the global vaccination roll-out are due to trade barriers, problems in supply chains, a lack of raw materials, too little know-how and too little willingness on the part of rich countries to share injections with poorer countries.

'I don't know any producers who want to but are not allowed to'

Emeritus professor of vaccine development Ben van der Zeijst understands the arguments of the pharmaceutical companies.

"Vaccine production is a very complicated process that consists of several steps. It all has to be coordinated."

The release of patents on the corona vaccines cannot simply make up the worldwide shortage of injections.

"Then there have to be producers who say: 'I can make it now, but I'm not allowed to!'

I don't know those producers, "said Van der Zeijst, who was head of vaccination at RIVM in the past.

"What I see is that the suppliers have already engaged everyone who can be engaged."

According to Van der Zeijst, it is also not possible to just convert a factory into a vaccine production facility.

This also involves a knowledge and supplier network and then you need experienced staff with know-how.

"If you have no experience, it will take at least a few years before it is possible to assemble a vaccine."

Allegations of self-interest

Van der Zeijst also understands that a "no" by pharmaceutical companies immediately leads to accusations of self-interest. There are, for example, a number of vaccine makers who earn a lot of money from making the injections. The now well-known Pfizer was able to add 3.5 billion dollars (2.9 billion euros) to vaccine services in the first quarter. Earlier this week, the pharmaceutical company confirmed that the profit margin on every shot sold is "close to 30 percent". In other words: Pfizer made a profit of 1 billion dollars on the injections sold.

The flip side of the coin can be seen at Janssen and AstraZeneca, who have been selling the vaccines without profit since the start of the pandemic. That may soon change for the latter:

Financial Times

revealed last year that AstraZeneca has stated in its contracts that it will not make a profit during the pandemic, but the pandemic will last in contracts until July 1. That deadline can be postponed by the pharmaceutical company itself. "They are not all sweeties, but they do have a point in terms of content," concludes Van der Zeijst.