Breaking COVID-19 vaccine patents is not the key to getting the shots out more quickly to the world, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Monday while expanding on an opinion piece he penned for The Wall Street Journal opposing President Joe Biden's support of the move.
"It was a political gesture," Gottlieb, a CNBC contributor who sits on the board of vaccine maker Pfizer, said on the networks' "Squawk Box" Monday. "A lot of people have declared victory and moved on but this doesn't solve the challenge of getting more vaccines into low-and middle-income countries."
Gottlieb and Dr. Luciana Borio, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and Director for Medical and Biodefense Preparedness at the National Security Council from 2017-19, argue in their opinion piece that rather than breaking the patents, it will be better to ease restrictions on exporting shots while building more production capacity.
"We're sitting on a lot of supply in the United States," said Gottlieb Monday. "We're sitting on at least 100 million doses that are not being used and probably aren't going to be used and by the end of July, one estimate is we'll have about 300 million doses in the United States."
And as the pandemic continues to spiral out of control outside the United States, "we should get more doses to those countries," said Gottlieb. "If we want to solve the long-term challenge, we should be ramping up supply in the manufacturing sites currently operating."
Then, he said, the United States "can work on tech transfers with local producers in these countries, South Africa, India, Brazil to do the fill finishing steps. We should do that to build global capacities."
Further, by next year, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, the three largest manufacturers, will probably have at least 12 billion doses of vaccine made.
"We're going to have a lot of vaccines to supply the world," said Gottlieb. "It's a supply issue over the next six months. We need to share more doses. If we do a full-on tech transfer, the Biden plan doesn't contemplate that, it contemplates other countries reverse engineering our manufacturing processes."
The Biden administration, he added, wants to build up a stockpile of vaccines heading into fall in the event that booster shots may be needed.
The United States should trust its own supply chain because the three major manufacturers are ramping up supply and only Johnson & Johnson has had manufacturing problems, he added.
"We should trust the supply chain and not be stockpiling so much when there's a crisis around the world," said Gottlieb. "We can't be on the one hand giving away the intellectual property and not really protecting American companies overseas, on the other hand holding onto the finished goods, which the countries need right now. It seems somewhat cynical to me. At the very least they should be doing both. I don't understand why they're holding onto vaccine supplies and giving away the intellectual property we should be erring on the side of giving away the vaccines."
Local capacities should be built up in countries like South Africa or India, which have vaccine manufacturers right now that could be scaled to do more of this work, said Gottlieb. However, the idea that anyone will be able to reverse engineer the processes quickly will not work.
Meanwhile, mask recommendations are changing rapidly as COVID numbers drop in the United States, and Gottlieb said states should be easing indoor and outdoor mask mandates but remain reluctant.
"We've succeeded and met our own goal, but we're just reluctant to relax the measures now," said Gottlieb.
Part of the problem is that businesses are looking to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for guidelines rather than relaxing standards on their own because they fear being exposed to legal action if they relax mandates too soon, said Gottlieb.
"CDC has not opined on office-based work, he added. "They've left the ground for businesses to step in and do that on their own. People who don't want to be encumbered by restrictive guidance at this point should be looking to develop their own guidelines through public/private partnerships with authoritative groups. Now is the time to do it."
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