KEY POINTS

  • Dean calls India's demand for waiver "a thinly veiled attempt to boost its drug industry"
  • This former progressive has reversed his stance since joining a law and lobbying firm
  • His statement that every pharma plant is producing vaccine is false: Reports 

A former progressive champion and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate, Howard Dean, has urged President Joe Biden to reject a special intellectual property waiver, which would allow low-cost, generic COVID-19 vaccine production in poor countries. 

Dean, who currently works in the lobbying division at Dentons, a law firm that has earlier represented pharma giant Pfizer, wrote in Barron's that India's demand to waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines was "a thinly veiled attempt to boost its drug industry". 

"Intellectual property protections, such as patents, give innovators the right to own and market their inventions for a set time. Creating a new medicine is a costly proposition. Companies would never invest hundreds of millions in research and development if rivals could simply copy their drug formulas and create knockoffs," wrote Dean, who was called a "progressive outsider" during his presidential campaign in 2004. 

"India’s petition wouldn’t get shots in patients’ arms any faster. But it would give India’s scientists access to decades of insights and know-how from American researchers." 

Adding that IP protections encourage companies to create drugs in the first place, Dean argues that if the "IP behind those vaccines is suddenly exposed for all, it could dramatically lower the value of these platforms—and thus discourage further investments into these revolutionary technologies." 

Ironic, considering that Dean has previously advocated for single-payer health insurance coverage and government intervention into lowering domestic drug prices. 

Though his recent stance may baffle his liberal supporters, Dean has reversed his stance on every major progressive health policy issue since he joined the health care lobby firm, said Intercept.

Several reports have called out his claim that IP protections aren't the cause of vaccination delays and every drug manufacturing facility on the planet is already at capacity. AP reported that many foreign firms have lined up to offer pharmaceutical plants to produce vaccines but are slowed down by the terms set by the intellectual property owners.

Many pharma factories are willing to start production of COVID-19 vaccines if provided with the "blueprints and technical know-how," AP reported. 

Dean's opposition to the waiver comes as the World Health Organisation called for vaccine manufacturers to share their patent information broadly to dramatically increase the global supply and rein in the virus before it mutates to deadlier versions. 

Though not a registered lobbyist, Dean's statement reflects Dentons' recent pattern of advocacy. Though he has argued that he is not a lobbyist, Dean has refused to discuss what he does at the firm or the identities of his clients.

The Intercept said Dean engaged in "almost every lobbying activity imaginable" despite his official role as a senior advisor to its government affairs practice focused on corporate health care clients.  

Meanwhile, the clamor for changes in intellectual property laws grew louder as India and South Africa asking for waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines

The effort has been met with resistance from the U.K. and the European Union, but Biden is now facing mounting pressure from Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups to support the request by India, South Africa and 55 other countries.

Howard Dean Howard Dean Photo: Reuters/Eric Thayer