Chancellor Angela Merkel rejects the initiative to release patents for vaccines and has convinced other European heads of state of her position.

The EU is thus denying poorer countries the opportunity to develop their own vaccines based on the know-how of Biontech and others in order to protect human lives and end the global pandemic.

This is one of the most serious mistakes of Merkel's chancellorship, which is also further weakening Germany and Europe geopolitically.

The Chancellor and the EU should correct this mistake immediately.

In recent months, the pressure on the USA and the EU has increased massively to finally approve the release of patent protection by the World Trade Organization (WTO) so that pharmaceutical companies all over the world can produce vaccines against Covid-19 themselves.

Anything but a crazy idea


200 Nobel Prize winners and former heads of government as well as 100 governments worldwide and 400 parliamentarians in Europe are campaigning for this.

So this release is far from a crazy idea, but rather consensus in many parts of the world.

Now the US government has also joined this initiative, only Europe is the last bastion that defends the interests of the big pharmaceutical companies.

The Chancellor and other opponents put forward three arguments for their rejection - but all of them have been refuted.

The Chancellor's first argument is that the release of patent protection is ineffective.

The development of a vaccine, especially based on the new mRNA technologies from Biontech and Moderna, is so complex that pharmaceutical companies in poor countries will not be able to develop their own vaccines in the foreseeable future.


This argument is wrong, because producers in China and Russia have developed their own effective vaccines.

And many companies in other countries have the ability to do so in a fairly short amount of time, given the expertise and support they need.

India's Serum Institute of India is the world's largest vaccine manufacturer and could produce its own mRNA-based vaccine in a relatively short time.

The former director of Moderna, Suhaib Siddiqi, is convinced that modern production facilities can produce mRNA vaccines within three to four months, even in poor countries.

Biontech has already given the Chinese Fosun Pharma a license for its mRNA technology.

The WTO rules allow flexibility in patent rights.

With more than 100 patents that are directly or indirectly affected in the production of an mRNA vaccine, the only way of rapid implementation is to release the patent protection.

The most important mechanism of the WTO approval is that this would give the successful pharmaceutical companies strong incentives to sign voluntary licensing agreements with pharmaceutical companies in poorer countries in order to benefit financially from the production there.


Much is at stake.

Even if it took a year or more to develop and produce new vaccines, it would save many lives around the world and also create tremendous benefits for the global economy.

Because unlike in Germany, where the government has promised its citizens a vaccination offer by September 2021 at the latest, many people in the world's poorest countries will not be vaccinated before 2023.

To emphasize this again: Many people in the world would have to wait at least two years for a vaccination under the current regime!

Therefore, this first argument of the ineffectiveness of releasing patent protection appears to be false and hypothetical.

The real concern of many, especially western pharmaceutical companies, is arguably not that the release will not be effective, but that it will be too effective.

At least that is what many experts and investors worldwide believe: After the announcement of the support of the US government last Wednesday, the share prices of many pharmaceutical companies with an approved vaccine fell.

Because the release of the patent protection would massively reduce their market power.

It would lead to more competition and lower prices, even in rich countries.

In other words, the real concern of many is the profits of the pharmaceutical companies.

It is not about demonizing the profit-making pursuit of pharmaceutical companies.

On the contrary, the pursuit of profit and high returns is a central element of any market economy.

It was very important so that vaccines against Covid-19 could be developed and produced in a short time.

But the second argument of the opponents of a release of patent protection, that such profits are necessary in order to provide incentives for research and development in the future and thus to enable medical progress, is wrong or at least greatly exaggerated.


Because WTO approval of patent protection would not mean that the Pfizers, Modernas and Johnson & Johnsons would no longer make profits in this world, but only that these profits would be slightly lower.

The successful pharmaceutical companies have already made such enormous profits with their Covid-19 vaccines that their investments and risks have paid off in many cases.

Economic research shows that optimal patent protection does not mean granting successful pharmaceutical companies the longest and most extensive possible patent protection.

High profits, but short supply

On the contrary, a quasi-monopoly leads to high profits for the successful corporations, but often also to a shortage of supply and, above all, to less innovation in the long term.

A quick release of patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines would not necessarily be detrimental to future research and development in the pharmaceutical sector.

On the contrary, competition and thus also innovation would increase.

Especially since mRNA technology is being researched not only as a vaccine against Covid, but for many other diseases, especially cancer, and has shown initial success.

In addition, after the pandemic is before the pandemic.

Experts consider it very likely that Covid-19 in various mutants will threaten the world for many years to come.

The necessary expertise from different producers and in different countries can therefore be important in order to be able to react quickly to new mutants - and thus against their global spread - in the future.

And if even this argument should not convince the advocates of the theory of the pure market economy, then perhaps this fact: Without the state-funded basic research at universities and non-university research institutions, the development of the mRNA vaccine by Biontech and Moderna would not have been possible at all.

The third argument of the opponents for the release of patent protection is a moral one.

In the past few days, politicians in the EU have never tired of pointing out that the EU exports almost half of the vaccines produced in the EU with 200 million doses, whereas the USA has so far hardly exported any vaccines.

This is a dangerous argument and one that has rightly aroused great indignation among some in poorer countries.

Ridiculously small contribution to Covax

Because the EU, with six percent of the world's population, has received 20 percent of all vaccinations so far, which is likely to increase again in the coming weeks.

The EU is also threatening export bans (and in the case of Italy it has even applied them sporadically to Australia) in order to collect more of the vaccines for itself.


Also, the EU and the federal government have so far made a ridiculously small contribution to Covax, the global initiative to provide vaccines to the poorest countries.

China and Russia, on the other hand, have helped poorer countries much more in technology transfer.

By refusing to release patent protection for vaccines, Europe and Germany are not only sidelining themselves morally.

This refusal will cause significant health and economic damage around the world.

The support of the EU and the German government is urgently needed, not only morally but also economically.

Because: the corona pandemic will not be over for anyone as long as it has not ended successfully for everyone.

Source: picture alliance / dpa

The author is President of the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin.