Pressure Grows on U.S. Companies to Share Covid Vaccine Technology

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Global health advocates say Moderna has a special obligation to share its technology because its vaccine relies in part on technology developed by the National Institutes of Health, and because the company accepted $2.5 billion from the federal government as part of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s fast-track vaccine initiative.

A Moderna spokeswoman, Colleen Hussey, said in an email message Tuesday night that the company had agreed not to enforce its Covid-related patents and was “willing to license our intellectual property for Covid-19 vaccines to others for the post pandemic period.”

But advocates say the world needs Moderna’s know-how now — not after the pandemic is over.

While sharing the vaccine “recipe” is a vital first step, it is not in and of itself enough to allow for the swift and efficient set up of new mRNA manufacturing locations, said Alain Alsalhani, a vaccines expert with Doctors Without Borders’ access-to-medicines campaign.

“You need someone to share all the process, because it’s a new technology,” he said. “One of the problems we have is that the scientific literature about industrial-scale manufacturing of mRNA vaccines is so slim. This is why it’s not just about a recipe, it’s about an active and full tech transfer.”


Sept. 22, 2021, 9:18 a.m. ET

Pfizer, in an emailed statement, noted that it and its partner, BioNTech, had signed a letter of intent, announced last month, with the South African biopharmaceutical company Biovac, which is part of the South African hub, to manufacture Pfizer’s vaccine for African nations. But Biovac will only bottle the vaccine, which does not necessitate sharing the formula. The actual “drug substance” will be made in Europe.

In the absence of voluntary cooperation from the companies, some legal experts and global health advocates say the Biden administration could attempt to force them to share their intellectual property, using the powers of the Defense Production Act, a 1950 law that gives the president broad power over American companies in emergency situations.

Lawrence O. Gostin, a public health law expert at Georgetown University, said Mr. Biden could declare the pandemic a national security threat, which would enable him to “require companies to sign technology transfer contracts in exchange for reasonable compensation,” from either the federal government or manufacturing partners.