A government patent on the technology used in COVID mRNA vaccines could be an ‘important policy tool’ to boost production, activists and academics say.
A group of academics and activists are calling on the United States government to ensure that an upcoming technology patent is used on the heart of various coronavirus vaccines to increase access to inoculants around the world.
A patent is expected to be issued soon for a particular form of molecular engineering developed by US government scientists currently using five mRNA coronavirus vaccine manufacturers.
The vaccine category uses synthetic mRNA to cause human cells to produce a harmless spike protein found in coronavirus, triggering an immune response that inoculates an individual from the actual infection. Other forms of vaccines typically use the weakened or inactivated virus.
In a letter to US health officials, six health advocacy organizations and 15 public health scholars said the upcoming patent is an “important policy tool that the US government could use to facilitate expanding the production “of mRNA vaccines using the technology.
The license agreements involving the patent could be used to “ensure rapid and equitable global access,” said the letter, which was sent to Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Xavier Becerra, Director of the National Institutes of Health. (NIH) Dr. Francis Collins, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
It comes as rich countries have faced increased pressure from advocates and the World Health Organization (WHO) to share technology and rights with vaccine manufacturers in poorer and middle-income countries.
The United States, as well as countries such as the United Kingdom and Canada, have ordered enough doses to vaccinate their populations more than once, while several countries have struggled to secure access to the doses. Some critics have called the disparity vaccine apartheid.
‘Contribute to save millions of lives’
The letter sent Wednesday specifically highlighted the Moderna vaccine, which was developed with the NIAID and received $ 2.5 billion in government funding.
Moderna, along with three of the five other vaccine manufacturers that use government technology, currently have no licensing agreement with Washington.
The authors of the letter said that any license should include provisions that allow the US to authorize the manufacture of the Moderna vaccine; demand the exchange of technology with the WHO to help increase world production; and include requirements for universally accessible prices.
“This could help save millions of lives around the world,” they wrote. “It will also help protect public health here at home. Worldwide vaccination with highly effective vaccines, such as mRNA-1273 [the Moderna vaccine], is our best defense against the development of variants of [the coronavirus]. “
They argued that the US government has leveraged patents in this way in the past.
In recent weeks, the US has also faced increasing pressure to allocate globally a projected surplus of hundreds of millions of vaccine doses planned for the second half of 2021.
When asked on Wednesday how the United States is balancing protecting intellectual property and innovation with moving faster to achieve a world free of COVID-19, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the United States “It will look at all the options through the prism of lives and how many lives it will save, and try to put our resources and efforts on those that we believe will be most effective.”
She added: “At this time, our focus is to continue to address the pandemic that is ongoing in the United States, given that 1,000 people still die every day.”