In the past several weeks, vaccine development in the U.S. has gotten a lot of attention. One pharmaceutical company that’s leading the development of a vaccine of COVID-19, Moderna, announced positive results from their phase II clinical trials.
This news has encouraged those that have been worried about the vaccine development process. However, this announcement also brings up an important question about ownership. Who will own the patent rights to this life-saving vaccine? How much will it cost? Will insurance cover it? Can people still get it without having insurance? Will people need more than one vaccination? All of these questions and more have yet to be addressed.
Pharmaceutical companies make a lot of money by patenting and owning the intellectual property rights to drugs and therapies, which gives them a monopoly on the drug product. If a company owns the rights to a COVID-19 vaccine, they will be in control of the entire production process, including how much gets made, who will have access to it, and the price.
The pharmaceutical industry as a whole is a lobbying powerhouse in the U.S., spending $295 million in the year 2019 alone. They defend the rights of pharma companies to exclusively profit from life-saving drugs, and their ability to set prices. They argue that it’s pharmaceutical companies that fund the expensive research and development process that lead to medical advancements.
It’s true, research and development are costly and time-intensive processes, but pharmaceutical companies heavily rely on federal funding to subsidize the process. From the years 2010-2016, all 210 new drugs that were approved by the FDA received funding from the National Institute of Health. Moderna, as well as other pharma companies working on a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, have been given federal funding to speed up the development process. These funds come through tax dollars, and act as a buffer for the company so that their profits remain high. Without public funding, medical advancements are deemed unprofitable for privately owned pharmaceutical companies to invest in.
The world’s population is counting on the research and development of a vaccine for COVID-19, and every day that goes by without it, people all across the globe are at risk. It’s only through public funding, and the countless scientists and lab technicians working tirelessly in the pharmaceutical field, that innovative new drugs and vaccines are possible. Access and price can’t be left in the hands of a company whose only motivation is profit. Otherwise, we can expect nothing but the usual from pharmaceutical companies; vaccinations and life-saving drugs and therapies will continue to be sold at the highest price, regardless of human need.
featured image credit: ISPE