Vaccine Patent Protections and the Hypocrisy of US Health Care

The Biden administration’s sympathy for health care corporations is harming global health



American health care manufacturers are using patent protections to keep vital COVID-19 vaccine development information to themselves, even as the Biden administration has pressured them to release the information.


This past May, President Joe Biden announced that his administration would support overriding the American-made COVID-19 vaccine patent protections in order to more effectively combat the global pandemic.

Overriding patent protections would allow international manufacturers and governments to learn the development and distribution methods that have enabled Pfizer and Moderna to make effective COVID-19 vaccines so quickly. One of the major reasons for the low vaccination rates in developing countries is that they have yet to make their own vaccines. Access to patent-protected development techniques would mean these countries could spend less time and money on development and more on production and distribution of vaccines. 

When I heard the announcement, I was relieved. I thought the pandemic would finally end, and I was proud that Biden was choosing to support humanity over profits. With only 48.3% of the world population and 3% of people in low-income countries having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, overriding patent protections is an essential step to increasing COVID-19 immunity worldwide.

It’s absolute nonsense for these corporations to call themselves “health care” companies.

There’s one big problem, however. Overriding patent protections is a nonstarter to executives at major pharmaceutical companies — manufacturers like Pfizer and Moderna have refused to release patent-protected information, even when they are pressured to do so by the World Health Organization and the Biden administration.

Why? The answer is extraordinarily simple: money. And their refusal gets to the root of why it’s absolute nonsense for these corporations to call themselves “health care” companies. 

Health care executives want nothing more than to line their own pockets. While these giant conglomerates have positioned themselves publicly as those who keep Americans and their families healthy, they do nothing but cut spending in the name of maximizing profits. They have no ideological attachment to public health and are only interested in eradicating COVID-19 insofar as the endeavor is profitable. 

If they truly care about public health, why do Americans spend more per capita for health care than those in any country on earth? Why did it take the passage of the Affordable Care Act to prohibit insurance companies from denying care to patients with preexisting conditions? And why do U.S. consumers pay the most for prescriptions per capita than citizens of many other countries? 

These questions have been asked by progressive political leaders ad nauseam. Moderate Democrats, on the other hand, including Biden, continue to legislate as if health care corporations work in the best interest of the American people. They declined to negotiate the prices of drugs with pharmaceutical companies before they are brought to market, knowing it will drastically reduce prescription costs. One reason for this is the constant campaign donations received from these very companies to Democrats, and the unfounded fear that progressive policies are unpopular.

It’s important to note that in order for developing countries to actually make use of American vaccine development techniques, they need the expensive infrastructure required to turn that information into vaccinations. That lack of present infrastructure and its associated logistical problems will make it harder for developing nations to utilize overridden patents. Even so, giving foreign entities access to that information is one huge step the U.S. can make to implement the egalitarianism so often espoused by the Biden administration.

Biden seems more interested in keeping his approval rating from slipping further than in supporting public health.

Biden’s refusal to declare COVID-19 a national security emergency, the only route he can take to mandate U.S. vaccine manufacturers to give up their patent-protected information, seems to be a political calculation. Although it’s true that such a mandate will result in a protracted legal battle likely to end up at the conservative Supreme Court, which may very well shut it down, the benefits are absolutely worth the risks.

Further, Biden seems more interested in keeping his approval rating from slipping further than in supporting public health, even as he promoted such egalitarian rhetoric in a speech at the U.N. General Assembly in September.

“There’s a fundamental truth of the 21st century within each of our own countries and as a global community that our own success is bound up in others succeeding as well,” Biden said. “To deliver for our own people, we must also engage deeply with the rest of the world … Our security, our prosperity and our very freedoms are interconnected, in my view, as never before. And so, I believe we must work together as never before.”

Clearly, this doesn’t apply to ending the pandemic. With this kind of rhetoric, the Biden administration continues to posture itself as aggressively progressive, touting its “Build Back Better” agenda as something that will substantially impact the American people and revive the American economy. But the reality is, as Biden said to the U.N., ending COVID-19 and the related economic crises requires a massive global initiative, like overriding patents — the 160 million vaccines the U.S. has donated across the globe are sadly not enough.