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DeLauro, Schakowsky, Blumenauer, Doggett, Espaillat, Levin Urge Biden Administration to Support COVID-19 Waiver to Boost Global Distribution of Vaccines and Therapeutics

March 17, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC —Today, U.S. Representatives Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Lloyd Doggett (TX-35), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), and Andy Levin (MI-09) urged President Biden to support an emergency temporary waiver of some Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules so that greater supplies of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests can be produced globally. At a press conference, the Members emphasized the importance of U.S. leadership in crushing the coronavirus around the world.

“The Biden administration has an obligation to reverse the damage done by the Trump Administration and reestablish our nation’s global reputation as a public health leader,” said DeLauro. “As we see every day, the COVID-19 pandemic knows no borders. Our globalized systems cannot recover if only parts of the world are vaccinated and have protection against the virus. We must make vaccines available everywhere if we are going to crush the virus anywhere, and we need to make public policy choices, both in the US and at the WTO, that put people first. Congress has appropriated billions of dollars of emergency relief for the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries and is planning billions more. The faster we can bring this emergency to an end, the faster these industries can recover. President Biden’s support for the TRIPS waiver is key to the end of the pandemic and the beginning of a strong global recovery.”

“Many poor and developing countries, led by India and South Africa, along with hundreds of other nations have urgently gone to the World Trade Organization (WTO) seeking a time-limited waiver of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. During this COVID pandemic, these nations want the right to manufacture the vaccines and therapeutics themselves,” said Schakowsky. “Predictably, Big Pharma is adamantly opposed, claiming in their letter to President Biden that ‘intellectual property is the foundation for both the development and sharing of new technologies,’ not mentioning their own profits, or the billions of dollars that taxpayers have contributed to their research and development.”

“As a global community, we must come together and use every tool at our disposal to stop this pandemic. We have seen the World Trade Organization intellectual property rules and corporate greed have disastrous impacts for public health during past epidemics, and we need to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” said Blumenauer. “The Biden administration has already shown that we are in this together with our allies. They understand that a deadly pandemic does not stop at any one border. Working to ensure that trade rules do not stunt the developing world’s access to vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests is the clear next step.”

“Mindful of COVID variants from Brazil and South Africa, to stop this deadly virus, we need widespread immunization everywhere around the globe, not just in the wealthiest countries,” said Doggett. While we have lacked sufficient vaccine in America, in poorer countries immunization has been almost nonexistent. With taxpayers here and elsewhere financing so much of vaccine research, development, and manufacturing, the United States must promote more access, not block discussion of access at the behest of Big Pharma, which wrongly insists that intellectual property rights constitute an insurmountable barrier. Let’s reverse course and start leading the way by building on the recent successes here like Johnson & Johnson’s agreement for its lifesaving vaccine to be produced by sometime rival, Merck.”

“America has an obligation to support the global community with the tools and vaccine resources we developed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Espaillat. “As the United States and others accelerate their vaccination campaigns, we are met with a global conundrum requiring countries to wait months and even years to vaccinate their citizens – a delay that will only allow the virus to continue to mutate, spread, and kill more people. We simply cannot allow this to happen and during this time of crisis, rather than protecting wealthy pharmaceutical companies’ bottom lines or intellectual property derived from our collective investments, we must remove all impediments to vaccine distribution, including maximizing capacity worldwide to ensure every person who wants this vaccine has access as soon as possible regardless of economic background, race, or nationality. The World Trade Organization (WTO) has the ability to accomplish this task, and I encourage the Biden administration to urge the WTO and partner member-nations to use the tools at its disposal to do so. I commend my colleagues, Reps. Schakowsky, DeLauro, and Blumenauer for their leadership on this issue and look forward to working with them and the administration to ensure the investments we make as a nation can accrue to the global goal of defeating COVID-19 once and for all.”

“I desperately want a return to normalcy,” said Levin. “But I want that normalcy to be sustainable! I want to be sure that this virus isn’t going to keep spreading, keep mutating—potentially in a way that’s resistant to the vaccines we’re getting right now. I don’t say this to fearmonger. I say it because I never want any of us to go through a health crisis like this ever again. The only way to stop this virus for good is to stop it everywhere. That means granting the TRIPS waiver so that developing nations can manufacture vaccines and treatments locally.”

This press event comes ahead of a letter to be sent in the coming weeks by more than 60 U.S. Representatives urging President Biden to announce support for the TRIPS waiver proposed by India and South Africa at the WTO. The temporary TRIPS waiver would allow countries and manufacturers to directly access and share technologies to produce vaccines and therapeutics without causing trade sanctions or international disputes.