November 15, 2020

Make essential Covid research and vaccine open-source

Pfizer vaccine was developed with public funding.

The classical ethical and pragmatic dilemma of intellectual rights vs. copying essential medicines doesn't even apply here. Yes, of course we can consider the moral right of various groups to steal IPR in order to save lives. We can even reframe the topic in a more abstract discussion regarding the right of the government to nationalize private property, which is in our case IPR - and when nationalization (or expropriation) becomes theft.

But we are taking here about a lot of public funding. US, Germany, UK, the European Commission pushed billions into research for a new Covid vaccine. Tax money.

Was it right for the state to intervene in the regulation of banks and their directors' bonuses in the 2009 crisis? Well, yes, when the state saved these banks and pushed billions to get them back on track, then the state has become the main stakeholder but also main shareholder, so it has the right and the moral obligation to have a say in how this money is spent (nb. the state is of course, here, a proxy for society).

Same for pharma. When the research of this vaccine was funded by public money, subsidized by the taxes of hundreds of millions of people in rich countries, then these people, including we Europeans, have the moral right to influence what we do with the results. So the question boils down to: are we all of us humane or selfish enough to (not) share the results with countries that didn't have money for grants to research and the pharmaceutical industry? As all EU countries will benefit from the European Union funding and purchasing power, wouldn't it be nice for the whole world to benefit?

Me, I am voting for making the Covid vaccine open-source.

Note: the vaccine developed by Pfizer and Biotech is closer to public large scale distribution. Picture (c) Reuters, news here.


  1. Of course you are right, a vaccine created using public funds cannot be confiscated by a private company.

    However, in this case this is not the most urgent question to ask. Rather, I would ask to justify why so much public money was given to private companies for a vaccine that we don't need given the low mortality rate of the virus and its rapidity to generate variants for which antibodies from the spring phase are no longer able to protect people during the autumn phase.

  2. Thanks for your comment.
    As already noticed on Facebook :) - I disagree with your opinion. 1.3 mil. people died already, so I consider the investment acceptable; even necessary.

    Of course, this is a quite personal political and moral opinion.
    The question belongs to the larger debate regarding how much are we willing to pay for health insurance, vs. healthcare quality. I am not talking about the curve form, just about the principle. Yes, there is a limit, a % over which it isn't worth pushing more money into the health system.
    In my opinion (which is also the opinion of the majority of the population), we haven't invested enough in the case of Covid. But I understand that there is a minority of the population that doesn't agree with this.


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