LALIT, as a party, takes its hat off to American activists who have put pressure on the Joe Biden administration to suspend monopoly patents on the protection of privately-owned “intellectual property” in the case of Covid-19 vaccines. This could be the tipping point in ending the ban on non-imperialist countries and non-monopoly companies producing Covid-19 vaccines.
The political mobilization in the USA, led by Bernie Sanders at grassroots and in the US Senate, has produced results. Biden yesterday took a stand. The US has now left the camp of protecting monopoly profits at any cost to join the camp of those calling to end the ban on production ensured by the draconian patent laws on so-called “intellectual property rights” for the Covid vaccine.
What does this mean? It means that, if the other countries that are still putting a spanner in the works, get isolated enough and stop challenging the waiver, then the World Trade Organization (WTO) will be able to lift its prohibition on production of the vaccines beyond the companies that first developed them. The “ideas” behind the vaccine will then be in the public domain, allowing states and companies in poorer countries to step into production. So, in the long term, getting the Biden Administration to join forces with those calling to lift the ban on generalized vaccine production, is an important shift in the balance of power. Will it turn out to be a tipping point?
Yesterday afternoon, when President Joe Biden announced his position, South Africa and India (leading the challenge to get a “waiver” on the patents banning vaccine production by others) got a big, new ally on their side and removed him from the other side. Biden also said that his aim is to accelerate production of the vaccines in this time of crisis, which is precisely the aim of the two governments leading the charge. 100 countries are behind South Africa and India, including the Republic of Mauritius.
It needs to be mentioned that American public funds were, in fact, used during the Trump administration to speed up private vaccine development, especially of Moderna. It is not as though the companies “took the risk”. All US producers of Covid vaccines were subsidized by tax money. The Government allowed four or five “steps” in pre-production, including bureaucratic ones, to run “parallel” and not “in series” as usual, by standing as guarantee for the pharmaceutical companies continuing the general research already done on vaccines against Corona viruses for some 20 years into the specific phase against Covid-19. This cut the time needed by 75%. Vaccines were produced in about one year. In the UK, where vaccine roll-out is high, it has curbed the epidemic.
The United States, the National Public Radio (NPR) announced that President Biden is now supporting the move to suspend intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization, the specific arena of the fight against patents and monopolies on vaccines for Covid. This would lift an important “legal” barrier to vaccine production by making the knowledge behind the technology public. There could then be production all over the world.
Biden, given that he is a pro-capitalist President, reassured the capitalist class that, although he was making this concession to his left, “The Administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.” The concession, nevertheless, shows how the “balance of power” changes as people mobilize in the USA and world-wide.
The bosses in the USA are naturally furious. The “Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America” that unites pharmaceutical companies at once attacked Biden. They said, “This decision will sow confusion between public and private partners, further weaken already strained supply chains and foster the proliferation of counterfeit vaccines,” amongst other dodgy arguments. They also deplored the decrease this would provoke in US job creation.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Ghebreyesus, called the US taking this stand “monumental” in the struggle to control the pandemic. This means he thinks this might tip the scales.
Now, we still have to win the battle against some European countries and Switzerland, the UK, Canada and Japan, who want, even as people die by the hundreds of thousand, to maintain the monopoly profits from a vaccine. (Note that a country is an “imperialist” country by virtue of its capacity to ensure monopoly profits for its companies, and one of the main tools for this is the patent monopolies on ideas, like on vaccines). Will the governments of these imperialist countries now feel isolated, with their greed exposed? What with their big brother, the USA, shamed into a concession? It all depends on the degree of organization of their respective peoples. And even on us. Note that LALIT is one of 10 Mauritian workers’ organizations that one month ago signed up to this.
The precedent for such a waiver was when the people of South Africa took the lead in an uprising to force their government to go to the WTO and get a ban lifted on HIV-Aids medicines, in the midst of that epidemic. When Nelson Mandela publicly added his voice, the reactionary resistance of the imperialist countries collapsed, and the ban was lifted.
PS We have written and published this article for its own news value, and also because it is a prime example of what “imperialist countries” are – those that assure monopoly profit for their companies – and it also shows how, in the face of enormous enemies, “the balance of powers” can be tipped by organizing and mobilizing around clear themes. It is not for nothing that we in LALIT, together with some 10 trade union and other working class organizations have been involved in finding the weaknesses in imperialism (Diego Garcia military base, and the occupation of Palestine being two examples) and really hammering away at them, and also why we have acted so often against the commodification of any intellectual “property”, especially monopoly bans on ideas and thus on production of medicines, and worst of all on vaccines.