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June 10, 2021

Vaccines, Intellectual Property, and Global Equity

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Vaccines, Intellectual Property, and Global Equity


In the past 18 months, pharmaceutical manufacturers developed, tested, and rolled out effective COVID-19 vaccines at an historically unprecedented pace. Manufacturing and delivering vaccines to some 7.8 billion people worldwide, however, has reignited tensions about the role of intellectual property in medicine. On one side is the argument that public funding for biomedical research made the new vaccines possible and that IP protections should be waived to increase supplies and speed vaccine distribution, especially in poorer nations. On the other side is the argument that pharmaceutical companies and investors risked billions of dollars to develop, test, and ensure safe manufacturing of the vaccines. IP protections are thus necessary to recoup R&D investments, maintain vaccine quality and safety, and incentivize developing future drugs and vaccines.

This panel will explore the legal and policy debate regarding patents on vaccines, including discussing IP waivers, compulsory licensing proposals, and the role of the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement. How risky is vaccine development? What is protected by vaccine patents? What role do US and EU patents play for international vaccine manufacturing and distribution?

The webinar will begin with a brief overview of vaccine history and a virtual tour of relevant Smithsonian collections. It will proceed with a panel discussion concerning the ethical, commercial, and global health implications of vaccine patents. Attendees are invited to pose questions throughout the program.