There's no such thing as intellectual property

For vaccines or anything else

(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

As the United States enters what is hopefully the final phase of the pandemic, the global outlook is darkening rapidly. Brazil has been suffering one of the world's worst outbreaks all year, and over the past month much of the rest of South America, from Colombia to Argentina, has joined them. At the same time, India has become the hottest COVID hot spot on the planet, repeatedly breaking global single-country records for daily confirmed cases, which are widely understood to be understated by at least an order of magnitude from the true horrific picture. While America will shortly have more vaccine than it can deploy, the rest of the world is crying out in desperation for relief.

In response, there's a burgeoning effort afoot to wrest control of the vaccines from Western and particularly American hands, and give them to other countries in more desperate need. A particular focus has landed on the patents owned by the pharmaceutical companies that developed the vaccines. Waive these, it is asserted, and the world will at least have a fighting chance at catching up to American vaccination levels; refuse to do so, and you're not only putting profits before people, but sustaining the virus, giving it time to mutate further and undo all that we've achieved so far. The rejoinder from the pharmaceutical companies has been swift and forceful: Breaking their patents would deny them a proper return on their capital, and even threaten national security by giving Chinese and Russian competitors the opportunity to build on American ingenuity.

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Noah Millman

Noah Millman is a screenwriter and filmmaker, a political columnist and a critic. From 2012 through 2017 he was a senior editor and featured blogger at The American Conservative. His work has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Politico, USA Today, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, Foreign Policy, Modern Age, First Things, and the Jewish Review of Books, among other publications. Noah lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.