In May, the Biden administration reversed course and decided to back the idea of waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.
The move was meant to ensure more of the world can become inoculated. “Extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures," U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said at the time.
David Ricks, CEO of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly (LLY), told Yahoo Finance that “this is a counterproductive move.”
“It just seems self-defeating,” Ricks said. “By next summer, we'll have enough vaccines to vaccinate the world anyway. Why don't we just focus on that?”
Many in the pharmaceutical industry – as well as the European Union – have pushed against the effort to waive the patent protections, instead reportedly proposing an alternative focused on speeding up production. (The EU and others have argued that waiving patents won’t do much to help accelerate production in the short term.)
‘Not a weeks or months thing’
Ricks said there will be enough COVID-19 vaccine for the "entire world" by next summer, and that any country looking to take advantage of a patent waiver would be waiting for years longer than that before usable vaccines would be rolling off the assembly line.
He said Eli Lilly takes about four years to get a new vaccine production site up and running. “This is not a weeks or months thing,” said Ricks. “It's going to be more.” On top of that, negotiations at the WTO over the waiver could take months.
Ricks spoke to Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer for an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
The patent waiver has been widely supported by many progressive U.S. lawmakers. By chance, news of the Biden administrations move was reported in the middle of a Yahoo Finance interview in May with Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
"Fantastic!,” Warren said upon learning the news. “I'm delighted."
Ricks said a better solution to get the vaccine to every corner of the world is to focus on supply chain problems as well as creating schedules for rollout by country. That way, nations would know exactly when they will get access to the drugs and can plan accordingly.
“What would be better is if the U.S. took a leadership role to say, OK, based on risk factors of outbreaks and infection as well as demographics like age, let's allocate these extra vaccines to the best places to allocate them,” he said.
Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.