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Sanders: Drug companies should give up rights to COVID-19 vaccines

Sanders: Drug companies should give up rights to COVID-19 vaccines
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care: CDC approves Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 | House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill | Panel blasts COVID-19 response Briahna Joy Gray: Warren not endorsing Sanders in 2020 was 'really frustrating' House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill MORE (I-Vt.) is calling on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to grant a patent waiver allowing countries to manufacture generic versions of Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines, saying it is "morally objectionable" that poor countries are experiencing massive surges of the virus while rich countries recover.

In an interview on Sunday with NBC's "Meet the Press," Sanders said that public health plays a role in his argument, warning that new variants that arise in India and other nations experiencing surges could "come back and bite us at one point or another."

"We should deal with this issue through the World Trade Organization ... . And I think what we have got to say right now to the drug companies when millions of lives are at stake around the world, yes, allow other countries to have these intellectual property rights so that they can produce the vaccines that are desperately needed in poor countries," Sanders said.

"There is something morally objectionable about rich countries being able to get that vaccine, and yet millions and billions of people in poor countries are unable to afford it," the senator continued.

A potential waiver is opposed by trade groups representing drugmakers and conservatives who have argued that protecting intellectual property is crucial for developing vaccines to address future pandemics.

"Eliminating those protections would undermine the global response to the pandemic, including ongoing effort to tackle new variants, create confusion that could potentially undermine public confidence in vaccine safety, and create a barrier to information sharing," PhRMA, a trade group representing U.S. drugmakers, said in a statement.

Indian officials have blamed insufficient access to COVID-19 vaccines for its latest surge, which has overwhelmed the country's health system and left some patients unable to find treatment for serious cases.

The country has experienced several consecutive days with more than 3,000 reported deaths, and recently saw new cases pass 400,000 in a single 24-hour period for the first time.