“The longer the global pandemic is allowed to run rampant, new, more virulent variants will continue to threaten health and economic wellbeing across the planet.”

By Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Wednesday pushed President Joe Biden to “use all legal tools” at his disposal to force U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies to share their closely guarded coronavirus vaccine recipes with the world, warning that not doing so will all but ensure the emergence of new variants.

“As new data emerges about the quickly spreading Omicron variant, we know that the longer the global pandemic is allowed to run rampant, new, more virulent variants will continue to threaten health and economic wellbeing across the planet,” 30 CPC members wrote in a letter to Biden. “As the United States quickly approaches 800,000 pandemic deaths with roughly 1,000 deaths continuing daily, we fear the Covid-19 pandemic that has produced nearly 5.5 million deaths globally will continue ravaging the globe if inequity and apathy prevail.”

gloved doctors hands preparing COVID vaccine

“The harm to U.S. public health and the economy if vaccine-resistant variants are allowed to evolve,” the Democratic lawmakers warned, “is almost unfathomable.”

The president has acknowledged that Covid-19 “transcends borders” and that ending the pandemic will require action on a global scale. But critics argued that, thus far, Biden’s actions have not matched his rhetoric.

While the administration has vowed to expand U.S. manufacturing capacity in order to produce a billion coronavirus vaccine doses annually to share with the world, it has yet to use its legal authority to make pharmaceutical companies share their vaccine recipes with developing countries, denying them the ability to produce their own shots and forcing them to rely on inadequate charity from rich nations.

In their new letter, CPC chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and other progressive lawmakers argued that “arrangements entered into by Pfizer and Moderna to provide doses to low- and middle-income countries have been grossly inadequate, providing far too few doses, far too slowly, and sometimes only under onerous terms.”

A recent analysis by the People’s Vaccine Alliance found that pharmaceutical giants have been grossly overcharging developing countries for vaccines, leading to massive company profits and inadequate vaccine access for billions across the globe. Just 9.8% of people in low-income countries have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, according to Our World in Data.

Because pharmaceutical companies have “refused to share technology with willing and capable manufacturers” overseas, the Democratic lawmakers wrote Wednesday, Biden should force them to by “invoking the Defense Production Act and other legal tools, such as 28 U.S.C. § 1498 and authorities under the Bayh-Dole Act, [which] would help jumpstart global mRNA production so that Covid-19 vaccines could be produced where they are needed in 2022.”

Additionally, the progressive Democrats urged Biden to clarify his position on India and South Africa’s patent waiver proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO), where Germany, the United Kingdom, and other rich nations have stonewalled the measure for more than a year even as millions of people died of Covid-19.

The president endorsed the patent waiver in May, but recent reporting indicates the administration has taken a passive approach to WTO negotiations, angering public health campaigners who want Biden to fight for the proposal.

“If the United States does not support it as drafted, we ask that you provide specific amendments to the text for evaluation and move quickly toward achieving consensus,” the CPC members wrote. “This proposal would help manufacturing plants around the world to increase production of Covid-19 vaccines.”

The lawmakers also demanded that Biden:

  • Redouble efforts to pass the Build Back Better Act and restore its full allocation of $8 billion for pandemic preparedness, including $2 billion dedicated to global vaccine manufacturing;
  • Call for $17 billion in additional funds to ensure a global 70% vaccination rate by mid-2022 in Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations;
  • Produce billions of mRNA vaccine doses, retaining public control over intellectual property and production to ensure new vaccine capacity serves public interests, rather than subsidizing pharmaceutical corporations; and
  • Support new global emergency financing to protect low-income countries through the International Monetary Fund, specifically via a new issuance of 1.5 trillion Special Drawing Rights.

“We believe that if the administration takes decisive action to increase the sharing of know-how and intellectual property for Covid-19 vaccines, expand both the production of vaccines and their distribution and delivery, and support the financing needs of low-income countries through additional multilateral measures,” the letter concludes, “your goal of vaccinating the world will be realized in short order.”

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