Patents of vaccines and airlines, the two US cases

Three senators against Pfizer and Moderna for the decision to increase the cost of the single dose

In the United States just in these days the controversy around the patents on vaccines against Covid 19 has regained strength when three very well-known and popular Democratic senators (Elisabeth Warren, Peter Welch and Bernie Sanders – former dem candidate for the presidency against Biden -) attacked first Pfizer and then Moderna for their announced decision to bring the cost of a single vaccine dose on the free market (when the contracts in place with the US government and the various world governments, including the EU, are exhausted) to 130 dollars. Sanders pointed out that the estimated cost of producing a single dose is around $2.85, so the announced sale price would be more than 45 times the production price. A huge amount. Pfizer hasn’t really responded to the criticisms, Moderna has recalled the large costs incurred for research and development and that in any case its product, even after the end of public contracts “will be available free of charge to the vast majority of people in the USA”.

The debate on the management of life-saving drug patents comes from afar and has had very significant developments during the Covid pandemic. We recall that on the sidelines of the last UN General Assembly before the Russian-Ukrainian war, US President Biden wanted a virtual world summit to fight against Covid. The leaders of 30 high-income nations attended to present “pledges for vaccine donation”. In this context, the US announces that it would donate up to 1.1 billion doses for the poorest countries. Moreover, none of the Summit participants mentioned anything concerning the patent protection of vaccines and the announcement made by Biden himself in May 2021 at the WTO of “not wanting to protect intellectual property for vaccines” remained a dead letter. At the time, Biden’s stance had seemed even epochal, putting a firm point, with all the authority of the US Government, in the long-standing dispute between those who believe that public health takes precedence over any other protection and those who underline that without ensured by patent exclusivity, innovation and the drive of the system to produce new drugs would be blocked. As we have seen, however, essentially nothing was done about it and this for various reasons of both an economic and political nature but perhaps also because the path proposed by the USA (“sic et simpliciter” suspension of patents) was technically simpler but not necessarily the most suitable. Perhaps it would have been better to focus on compulsory licenses (exemptions from patents following the pronouncement of a legal or administrative authority which sets their conditions and duration) as envisaged by the TRIPS multilateral agreement itself. Having said that, the state of the art to date is that, essentially, nothing has changed compared to three years ago, before the pandemic, and the issue therefore remains very current and unresolved.

AIRLINES. Many global airlines are trying to follow the example of Alaska Airlines which was the first to apply the cutting-edge Flyways software which studies and defines more efficient and less expensive routes, especially in terms of fuel consumption. It is not a simple exercise: IT infrastructures are not very easy to install as an airline cannot simply close one and open another. In fact, these systems must be integrated progressively and very carefully because everything happens with flights in progress and there is the risk of even very serious problems (as, moreover, happened just a few days ago in the USA where, it seems, an incorrect upgrade of a computer system of the FAA (the federal agency of the flight) caused a blackout of many hours stopping thousands of flights to the ground). In any case, it’s worth it: Alaska Airlines has achieved notable successes in the last year both in terms of fuel savings and the achievement of ambitious sustainable development targets, launching its CEO, the Italian-American Ben Minicucci, into the Olympus of supermanagers.