The COVID-19 Vaccine Void: When Should Patents Be Waived?


For many in the Western world, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be reaching an end as distribution for multiple vaccines is well underway. But this turnaround belies a much grimmer picture as non-Western nations continue to be devasted by the virus. This disparity is due in large part to corporate patents over vaccines, which benefit the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing and profiting from them, while privileging the countries that can afford to make and distribute them and limiting access for the rest of the world—thereby potentially prolonging the pandemic and leading to preventable deaths. The possibility of waiving patent protections, which has vocal supporters and detractors, is now up for a vote within the World Trade Organization. This case asks students to discuss the inequities inherent in vaccine patents and to weigh the corporate benefits of enforcing them against the ethical responsibility to waive them.

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