Americans are slowly returning to their favorite mom-and-pop shops and locally-owned restaurants. With COVID-19 cases falling, and 23 percent of the population fully vaccinated, most states have lifted the strictest lockdown measures.
Relief can’t come soon enough for small businesses. These firms are the backbone of our economy, accounting for more than 40 percent of GDP and almost half of all jobs. And our economy will depend on these firms to create new jobs and bring the nation back to full recovery.
Small firms have borne the economic brunt of the coronavirus, largely because so many of their business models depend on in-person interaction. Thousands -- perhaps millions -- will not survive. Restaurants have suffered massively, with the sector losing 2.5 million jobs and $240 billion in sales in 2020.
Things could have been much worse without the quick “pivoting” of entrepreneurs and the vaccines. It is critical for elected leaders to understand the policies that brought us to this positive juncture in order to make the right choices for the future.
Experts didn’t know if drug makers could invent, test, and produce vaccines for a brand-new disease as rapidly as they did. The previous record for speedy vaccine development had been four years, and it often takes 10 to 15. Yet Moderna and Pfizer brought their vaccines to market in less than one.
In-person enterprises would not be able to reopen without vaccines. It’s harrowing to think how the economy would fare in the face of multi-year lockdowns.
While the pace of vaccine development has been dramatic, it’s no miracle. Industry and government officials have spent decades honing policies that facilitate rapid medical innovation.
The system that gave us record-speed vaccines rests on a few pillars.
One is the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act. It promotes technology transfer from academia to the private sector by letting universities own and license patents on discoveries made with help from federal grants. By giving universities the right to license their researchers’ discoveries to private companies, the law has spurred the creation of countless startups.
Another important tenet is allowing companies to price products without government restrictions, which encourages risk-taking and the sizable level of investment it takes to bring a treatment to market.
Finally, stringent protections on intellectual property give investors and innovators the confidence they need to make large bets on long-shot drug research.
These policies explain why the United States has been the world’s leading drug developer for more than 30 years. And why a company like Moderna -- a small startup just a decade ago -- could produce a vaccine in record time.
Some lawmakers are keen to loosen intellectual property protections and impose price controls on new drugs. Such policies would make us unready for the next public health crisis. If we torpedo our current system, the lockdowns we face when the next pandemic rolls around could last much longer.
It’s been a challenging year, but we have finally reached a hopeful point thanks to the policies that gave us vaccines in record time. A thriving future for small business and our nation’s health depends on keeping these critical policies intact.
Karen Kerrigan is president and CEO of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. This piece originally ran in the International Business Times.