One iron law of politics and economics is always this: there is no crisis quite so bad that the European Union cannot find a way to make it a little bit worse. This week, the EU is leading efforts to create a so-called “voluntary patent pool” that would suspend intellectual property rules so that a vaccine or drug to fight Covid-19 can be rolled out quickly around the world.
At the same time, charities such as Oxfam are leading a campaign for a “People’s Vaccine” and Left-leaning economists are arguing that companies shouldn’t be allowed to stop treatments being made available to everyone.
People, runs the argument, need to be put before profits.
But hold on. That’s crazy. In truth, we should increase the incentives to find vaccines and drugs to combat the virus – not reduce them.
538prom精品视频在线播放Sure, it is going to be a challenge to get those treatments out to everyone, but we can fix that with investment and aid. The simple fact is this. Incentives work, and the more profitable we make it to cure Covid-19 the more likely we are to get the result we want.
It remains to be seen whether we can get a vaccine that works against Covid-19. More than a hundred are in development around the world, and there is a chance at least one of them will do the trick.
Even if it is not 100pc effective, 80pc or 90pc would be a huge step forward in controlling the epidemic538prom精品视频在线播放, and getting the world back to normal.
538prom精品视频在线播放As the science moves forward, however, politicians are already threatening to take control.
538prom精品视频在线播放European leaders are arguing for a “patent pool” that would effectively put a vaccine in common ownership. Last week, Oxfam fronted up a campaign for a People’s Vaccine with signatories that included the former prime minister Gordon Brown, the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and the leaders of Pakistan and South Africa, Imran Khan and Cyril Ramaphosa. It is calling for a vaccine to be made available free of charge.
According to the campaign, the “world cannot afford monopolies and competition to stand in the way of the universal need to save lives”.
If, and unfortunately it is still a big if, a vaccine is developed, and a production schedule and price are unveiled, the clamour will only increase. Whichever company gets there first could find itself nationalised in the blink of an eye.
This is dangerous nonsense. We are hardly going to accelerate either vaccine or drug development by making it impossible for anyone to make money from it.
True, there might be a problem with the availability of medicines when we get them. But the solution is surely to make enough funding and aid available, and to invest in ramping up vaccine plants, as the UK is already doing.
538prom精品视频在线播放In fact, vaccines are not usually prohibitively expensive by the standards of medical care. The priciest commonly used vaccine is Gardasil, which protects against HPV, and can cost over £400 for three jabs. Most, such as the MMR jab, are in the £20 to £30 range. If you took a mid-price of say £100 a shot, you could inoculate the whole of the UK for around £6.5bn (at which point Rishi Sunak will come running out of the Treasury shouting “where do I sign the cheque?”).
If South Africa struggled with the cost (£5.7bn) or Pakistan (£21bn), global aid budgets could easily be mobilised to cover that. We all have an interest in living in a world free of Covid-19. If it cost £100bn, it is hard to believe anyone would quibble about the cost. It would be cheap at the price.
The important point is surely this. We need to remember that incentives work. In reality, we should be making discovering a vaccine or an effective drug more lucrative, not less so. Like how? There are three places that we could start.
538prom精品视频在线播放First, governments around the world should commit to buying a vaccine at market rates and in volume, with aid programmes in place for any developing countries that are going to struggle to afford them. Most countries are going to want to inoculate everyone (and there will be an interesting argument with a few crazed anti-vaxxers), but it would be helpful to have that clearly set out.
If you know there is a £50bn order just waiting for you, everyone can make the investment to get there as quickly as possible.
538prom精品视频在线播放Next, how about a prize? Paul Romer, the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for economics, and someone who seems to know a lot more about the subject than Stiglitz, has already called for a $1bn prize for testing technology and argues the same logic would apply to a vaccine.
Prizes have a decent history of cracking scientific puzzles: the British Government used one in the 18th century to solve the problem of longitude, and more recently Netflix used one to create an algorithm 538prom精品视频在线播放to predict what films we might like to watch (sure, it’s not such a serious problem, but it worked).
538prom精品视频在线播放A globally funded $10bn prize for a vaccine? Why not? Finally, perhaps we should start thinking about an extended patent for an effective fix. If patent protection lasted 30 or 40 years rather than the usual 20 that would make it a far more lucrative product.
We know from long experience that incentives work, and so does the price mechanism. And they work best of all in a crisis when we have to improvise at lightning speed, and work out solutions in months instead of years.
538prom精品视频在线播放To wipe them out might generate a few feelgood headlines – but it will set back the fight against the virus by a long time.