Europe’s export curbs on life-saving medicines are a slippery slope. We need more global supply, not less.
Vaccine nationalism is escalating in a world where Covid-19 is everywhere, yet the life-saving medicines needed to fight it are scarce. The temptation to hoard doses is rising, but that would prolong the pandemic by driving an even bigger wedge between leaders and laggards. Without a focus on increasing supply and sharing doses across borders, the virus will be with us longer than we fear.
If tempers are running hot, it’s because supplies are running low. The European Union, furious at a drastic cut in expected deliveries from AstraZeneca Plc, is introducing export curbs to prevent vaccines leaving its territory if it feels drugmakers aren’t living up to their commitments. “This is a race against the clock,” said EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis. “We cannot lose time because of vaccines not being delivered on schedule.” There will be exceptions for some neighboring and low-income countries.
In theory, as a quid-pro-quo, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea that doses bought with taxpayer money should be defended tooth and nail for the benefit of those same taxpayers. The U.S. government, for example, has so-called “march-in” rights to take over drug patents if it feels manufacturers aren’t producing enough. Given the cumulative Covid-19 death toll in the EU is now at more than 462,800, and with swathes of the continent under lockdown, there may be a moral as well as a contractual case to intervene.