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Policy Briefs

How the G7 Can Use Patent Buyouts to Help the World Win the Race Against Coronavirus Mutations

Task Force: Global health

Michael Stolpe


As new variants keep the Covid-19 pandemic raging in many countries, the worldwide race between vaccinations and mutations may yet be lost: with more uncontrolled infections, further mutations are more likely to emerge, especially when unvaccinated hosts with weak immune systems allow infections to last longer. Transmission to vaccinated hosts can then facilitate the selection of mutations that “escape” the vaccine-induced immune response. To win that race, the worldwide campaign for vaccinations must be redesigned to exploit economies of scale more efficiently. But popular calls for patent waivers are misguided; they risk damaging the incentives for continued vaccine innovation efforts on which the world depends in fighting against SARS-CoV-2, other existing epidemics and future pandemics. Instead, the G7 should help convert the existing Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access initiative (COVAX) into a more generously endowed global fund that instead of – as it was de facto forced to do, against initial intentions – merely acquiring rich countries’ surplus vaccines and relying heavily on unpredictable donations, acquires the most promising vaccine patents in what is known as a patent buyout, aiming to offer free production licenses to all technically qualified vaccine and generic drug manufacturers around the world. This Policy Brief spells out detailed steps the G7 must take, and the funding for COVAX they must provide, to achieve this turnaround in the worldwide fight against the pandemic. It also argues the proposed patent buyouts would be more efficient than the draft compromise on patent waivers that India, South Africa, the EU and the US have recently negotiated and that is now waiting for approval by their respective governments and EU member countries and thereafter by all member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO).