Pfizer shares slump as support grows for COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver

Shares in COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers have taken a hit after the US signalled its support for waiving patents on them, a move aimed to boost global supplies of the life-saving shots.

Waiving the patent on proprietary knowledge would allow it to be shared with other manufacturers and the matter is being discussed by the World Trade Organization’s General Council today.

Stocks hit by the news included companies such as Pfizer and Moderna, who are making profits from their COVID-19 vaccines.

Pfizer said in its latest quarterly results that the vaccine it has produced with BioNTech could generate sales of $26 billion this year alone and will continue to see strong demand for years to come.

AstraZeneca is providing its vaccine at cost and has signed up to the Covax global initiative that has begun distributing vaccines to low- and middle-income countries at a maximum cost of $3 a dose.

Its share price dipped but quickly recovered following the news.

Bloomberg reported that US Trade Representative Katherine Tai has admitted that the process isn’t going to be easy, obliquely acknowledging the huge revenues that are stake.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has also voiced her support for the proposals, saying in an interview that the idea could help to address the crisis.

Any final waiver of intellectual property protections may take weeks to finalise and is likely to face strong opposition from the pharma industry.

In a statement, WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala described equitable access to vaccines as the “moral and economic issue of our time.”

The WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is to consider the idea following a proposal first put forward by India and South Africa.

This proposal has been approved by WTO members after supporters said that the current challenges posed by the pandemic can only be overcome by waiving certain TRIPS obligations.

Other delegates remained unconvinced about the necessity of a waiver at an international level, with some ongoing that the move may undermine ongoing collaborative efforts.

The waiver is supported by 60 other WTO members, mainly from the Africa and developing countries.

Feature image copyright BioNTech SE 2020, all rights reserved

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