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Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents

Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents
© Greg Nash

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersMusk's SpaceX has a competitive advantage over Bezos' Blue Origin New York, New Jersey, California face long odds in scrapping SALT  Warren calls for US to support ceasefire between Israel and Hamas MORE (I-Vt.) and nine Democratic senators are calling on President BidenJoe Biden28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Franklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Schools face new pressures to reopen for in-person learning MORE to support a waiver of COVID-19 vaccine patents at the World Trade Organization, a move they say is needed to ensure access to vaccines in lower-income countries. 

“Your Administration has the opportunity to reverse the damage done by the Trump Administration to our nation’s global reputation and restore America’s public health leadership on the world stage,” the senators wrote in a letter to Biden dated Thursday.

“To bring the pandemic to its quickest end and save the lives of Americans and people around the world, we ask that you prioritize people over pharmaceutical company profits by reversing the Trump position and announcing U.S. support for the [waiver].”

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The letter is part of mounting pressure campaign on Biden from progressive Democrats. Several House lawmakers, including House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauroRosa DeLauroHouse Democrats unveil .9 billion bill to boost security after insurrection Capitol Police watchdog back in spotlight amid security concerns Battle lines drawn over Biden's support for vaccine waivers MORE (D-Conn.), have also been leading a campaign to get the administration to support the waiver. An array of outside groups, including Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders and Partners in Health, also support the effort. 

Backers argue that waiving intellectual property protections on vaccines is needed to give lower-income countries the ability to manufacture vaccines themselves. Others argue that patent protections are not the main barrier to global vaccine access and that the real problem is a lack of technical expertise and capacity around extremely complex manufacturing. 

The pharmaceutical industry fiercely opposes the waiver, and points to voluntary agreements instead, like a deal between AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India.

In addition to Sanders, the Senate letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenLawmakers bicker over how to go after tax cheats Warren calls for US to support ceasefire between Israel and Hamas Sanders: Netanyahu has cultivated 'racist nationalism' MORE (Mass.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSenate Democrats offer bill to scrap tax break for investment managers Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap House Dems to unveil drug pricing measure ahead of Biden package MORE (Wis.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe 'frills' of Biden's infrastructure plan are real needs Senate Democrats offer bill to scrap tax break for investment managers Wyden: Funding infrastructure with gas tax hike a 'big mistake' MORE (Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySweeping election reform bill faces Senate buzz saw Kabul attack spurs fears over fate of Afghan women as US exits Sen. Murphy calls for Yemen's Houthis to accept ceasefire following trip to Middle East MORE (Conn.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySanders: Netanyahu has cultivated 'racist nationalism' Tensions mount among Democrats over US-Israel policy Sweeping election reform bill faces Senate buzz saw MORE (Ore.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyRon Johnson calls cyber attacks an 'existential' threat following Colonial Pipeline shutdown Senators ask airlines to offer cash refunds for unused flight credits Civilian Climate Corps can help stem rural-urban divide MORE (Mass.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenTensions mount among Democrats over US-Israel policy Financial market transactions should not be taxed or restricted Van Hollen says members should stand with Cheney on election claims MORE (Md.) and Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockDC statehood bill picks up Senate holdout Georgia senators introduce measure allowing voters to have access to water while waiting Cruz outspending other senators on Facebook ads: report MORE (Ga.). 

They argue that allowing the virus to continue to circulate in other countries is also a risk to the United States, given that it allows the virus to continue to mutate and for new, potentially vaccine-resistant variants to develop. 

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“Emerging COVID-19 variants show more resistance to vaccines and are more infectious,” they write. “They spotlight why time is of the essence: further delay in developing immunity around the world will only lead to faster and stronger mutations.”

Major unions, another group of Democratic allies, are also backing the waiver, and several, including the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, met with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine TaiKatherine TaiHow North American trade can restore balance with China Matt Stoller: Biden's support for COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver marks 'huge loss' for Big Pharma Waiving patents isn't enough — we need technology transfer to defeat COVID MORE on Tuesday.

Tai did not tip her hand on the administration’s position on the waiver in the meeting, sources said.

“The Ambassador conveyed the Administration’s commitment to increasing Covid-19 vaccine production and distribution, both at home and worldwide,” Tai's office said in a readout of the meeting. “The Ambassador sought their views on increasing vaccine availability and preventing the emergence and spread of new variants that could weaken our ability to end the pandemic.”

The senators’ letter comes ahead of a key World Trade Organization meeting in early May.