The rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines is one of the greatest scientific achievements our world has ever known.

At this time last year, vaccines were just a shiny promise, a glimmering beacon of hope on a distant horizon. As a cold, lonely winter approached, we dreamed of the day when a vaccine would let us once again visit distant relatives, attend actual schools, worship together in churches and attend sporting events, concerts and plays.

That dream became reality with astonishing speed. Today, 47.8% of the world's population has received at least one dose of COVID vaccine, with a total of 6.7 billion doses administered. That number climbs by 20.5 million every day – and with every shot given, we take a small step toward ending a global pandemic that has claimed 4.9 million lives.

Multiple entities share credit for this achievement. Pharmaceutical companies, with the financial backing of the federal government and other nations across the globe, relied on decades of previous research and created new, breakthrough technologies to develop, test and produce vaccines in a stunningly short time period.

But with multiple cooks in the kitchen, the inevitable question is now being asked: Who owns the recipes? And how long should they be kept secret?

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These questions matter because of vaccine inequity. If you live in the so-called “developed” world, then you almost certainly have had the opportunity to get a vaccine – and perhaps you've already gotten a booster shot. But, if you live in Niger, Sudan, Liberia, Haiti or any of a dozen other impoverished nations, then you have had zero opportunity to get a single dose.

To help address this global problem, President Biden wants pharmaceutical companies to waive patent protections on their COVID-19 vaccines. He is asking Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to share proprietary information and allow drug manufacturers around the world to produce, sell and distribute their vaccines.

On the face of it, this request seems logical, reasonable and necessary. The so-called “Operation Warp Speed” invested $18 billion of taxpayer money in vaccine research, a move which eliminated most of the financial risk for the pharmaceutical industry in attempting a hitherto-impossible task. And, by pre-ordering hundreds of millions of doses before any vaccines had been approved, the government essentially guaranteed a healthy profit to the drugmakers, even if their vaccines didn't pass muster.

One can easily argue, then, that the U.S. government has partial ownership of the intellectual property that the pharmaceutical companies created to fight COVID-19. And, given the threat of new COVID variants that could develop on the other side of the world – or just a few hundred miles away, in Haiti – it is in the best interests of the United States to ensure that vaccines reach every corner of the globe, even if those vaccines are produced and sold by foreign companies that played no role in vaccine development.

But before we endorse removal of patent protections on vaccine manufacturers, some important questions require answers.

For starters, is there actually is a shortage of vaccine, or is the problem one of distribution – or payment? Are pharmaceutical companies around the world “sitting on” hundreds of millions of doses that could be sent overseas, simply because no one has offered to purchase them?

If current patent holders of COVID-19 vaccines share their intellectual property, could foreign companies be required to sell the vaccines at affordable prices to impoverished nations? And is there any way to ensure that these vaccines, once delivered to these nations, would actually be given to the citizens, rather than being sold on the black market?

Would the drug companies that benefit from a patent waiver now be expected to reciprocate in the future, perhaps when another pandemic is ravaging the globe?

We recognize that the United States is part of a global community. And, given that our standing in that community has taken some substantial hits during the past two decades, the sharing of vaccine technology could help boost our nation's reputation and credibility.

The stakes are high, and the clock is ticking. With every passing day, the risk of a new, Delta-like variant arising in a vaccine-starved nation grows.

But before America gives away its hard-earned scientific achievements, we need to know that this donation would have a real chance to produce the desired outcome.