U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to waive patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines is controversial. And yet it is a grand gesture that should inspire other countries.
Criticizing the United States always works. During the COVID-19 crisis, the old leftist bogeyman stereotypes propagating anti-Americanism reemerged in Germany: According to some, Americans were once again the cold-hearted, capitalist egoists who thought about providing vaccines to their own people first. How dare they?
Now everything has changed. With President Joe Biden’s support of temporarily waiving vaccine patent rights, the United States proves many of the country’s notorious critics wrong. This generosity is hard to beat.
The waiver of patent rights would make it possible for the world’s poorer nations to independently produce the modern vaccines that provide the best protection against COVID-19. The U.S. pharmaceutical industry is enraged; manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna are apprehensive of losses amounting to billions. State encroachment and even expropriation is alleged.
And, of course, this U.S. policy has found some critics in Germany as well. Among them are the free-market liberals who fear the collapse of capitalism. The German government is also critical of Biden’s plan.
An Example for the World
In reality, Biden’s decision is an important historical change. The narrow-minded nationalism of Donald Trump is over; the United States is returning to being a leading power in the fight for good in the world. The country has finally gone back to using its power to tackle global problems, as it has regarding topics like human rights and climate change. It would be good if others followed suit.
Of course, further steps are needed. Support of the COVAX initiative, for instance, which aims at providing vaccines to poor countries. That’s all good. But in order to stimulate an impetus that would facilitate the development of affordable vaccines worldwide, the patent waiver is imperative. The world is in an unusual situation, hence the need for unusual steps, so that the pandemic can finally be brought under control everywhere.
The most important motivation behind the American about-face is the old tenet that the United States can only do well if as many others as possible in the world are doing well too. This is a principle that had temporarily been forgotten in Washington, despite it having being a leitmotif for most presidents in the past decades — from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Barack Obama.
Biden takes up this tradition. One can think of this as egoism or altruism, or as a peculiar mix of the two. In any case, there is more humanity involved than many outside the U.S. might think. The images of people in India dying, which can be seen on American television every evening as well, have caused an unprecedented wave of compassion and willingness to help. Similar to the distribution of the CARE package aid to post-war Germany, there is nowadays a strong urge among many Americans to help the poorer countries in their fight against COVID-19.