Lawmakers say Biden must do more on global vaccines

Lawmakers say Biden must do more on global vaccines
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President BidenJoe BidenGrant Woods, longtime friend of McCain and former Arizona AG, dies at 67 Sanders on Medicare expansion in spending package: 'Its not coming out' Glasgow summit raises stakes for Biden deal MORE is facing calls from lawmakers and advocates to go farther in helping vaccinate the world against COVID-19, even after pledging an additional 500 million doses at a summit on Wednesday.

The additional 500 million Pfizer doses for the world that Biden announced at a summit seeking to rally global action on COVID-19 brings the total U.S. commitment to over 1.1 billion doses across this year and next. 

But some experts say that donating doses is not enough. To truly solve the glaring inequities in global vaccine supply, they say the Biden administration should push vaccine makers to share know-how to allow more countries to make additional doses themselves, and that the government should provide more funding to scale up vaccine manufacturing capacity. 

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“Donations in and of themselves are a drop in the bucket of global need,” said Max Hadler, COVID-19 senior policy expert at the group Physicians for Human Rights.

“The scale is so much higher than the scale world leaders are talking about right now,” he added. 

Groups like Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, and Public Citizen made similar calls for Biden to do more after the summit. 

Lawmakers are also joining he push.

“This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, but I urge the President to take bolder action as soon as possible,” Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiHouse Oversight Democrats ask NFL for information from investigation into Washington Football Team FDA authorizes an e-cigarette for first time, citing benefit for smokers Congressional investigators find more cases of baby food with toxic heavy metals MORE (D-Ill.) said in a statement in response to the announcement of the new donation of Pfizer doses. 

Krishnamoorthi helped lead a letter from 116 Democratic lawmakers in August calling for including $34 billion in Democrats’ coming $3.5 trillion package to ramp up global COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing and distribution. 

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The package released by the House includes just $2 billion for vaccine manufacturing, though. Krishnamoorthi said in an interview Thursday that he would be working with colleagues to push “very strongly” to try to increase that figure as the Senate works on the package as well. 

“Administration officials understand, I’m confident, the value of leading on vaccine diplomacy; I just want to inject more scale and urgency into their efforts,” said Rep. Jake AuchinclossJake AuchinclossLawmakers say Biden must do more on global vaccines Lawmakers introduce bill to create commemorative coins to honor working dogs WHIP LIST: How House Democrats, Republicans say they'll vote on infrastructure bill MORE (D-Mass.), who also pointed to unspent funds the administration could use to boost vaccine manufacturing, and has called on the U.S. to develop a “Marshall Plan” for global vaccinations. 

Experts say that it is also in the U.S.’s self-interest to help vaccinate the world, given that as long as the virus continues to spread, new variants that resist vaccines’ protections could develop. 

Just two percent of the population in low-income countries is vaccinated, according to a tracker from the Kaiser Family Foundation, compared to 65 percent in high-income countries. 

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres this week called out the “obscenity” of global vaccine inequities, pointing to “over 90 percent of Africans still waiting for their first dose.”

The White House notes that the almost 160 million doses it has already donated are more than have been contributed by the rest of the world combined.

“We will continue to do more — share doses, scale manufacturing, invest in vaccines abroad,” White House Press Secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden remarks on Taiwan leave administration scrambling Buttigieg aims to use Tucker Carlson flap to spotlight paternity leave Biden injects new momentum into filibuster fight MORE told reporters. “You heard the president talk about that.  But we also need the world to do more, especially developed economies that can do more to contribute to this effort to defeat the pandemic.”

Tom Frieden, the former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview “there’s a lot to like” in what the Biden administration announced at the summit, but the “missing link” in the administration’s plans is forcing vaccine makers to share their know-how. 

He focused in particular on Moderna, given that it benefited greatly from U.S. taxpayer-funded research at the National Institutes of Health. 

“It’s got a formula that’s very important for the world,” Frieden said of Moderna. “That formula was bought and paid for by the U.S. taxpayers, and they are refusing to transfer technology to a consortia of manufacturers who could scale up manufacturing much faster than they can.”

Frieden, who is now president of the global health nonprofit Resolve to Save Lives, said the Biden administration could use authority under the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, or under the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, to step in and force Moderna to share its know-how abroad. 

A White House official said: “We strongly support companies manufacturing vaccines to share in the transfer of technological information.” But the official added that there can be other “limiting factors” complicating the situation. 

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For example, a Pfizer spokesperson pointed to scarce raw materials, saying, “Right now, virtually every single gram of raw material produced is immediately shipped to our manufacturing facilities.”

“It is unrealistic to think that sharing ‘the recipe’ and know-how would immediately solve the supply challenges,” the spokesperson said, while noting Pfizer and other vaccine makers have already been working to ramp up their capacity.

Asked about calls to share its know-how, a Moderna spokesperson pointed to a statement the company issued in October, saying it would not enforce its COVID-19-related patents and be willing to license its intellectual property, but specifying that would come down the line in the “post pandemic period.”

In perhaps lower-hanging fruit, a bipartisan group of over 30 lawmakers, led by Rep. Susan WildSusan WildDemocrats weigh changes to drug pricing measure to win over moderates Biden meets with vulnerable House Democrats with agenda in limbo  Congress needs to help schools meet mental health challenges MORE (D-Pa.), wrote to Biden this week calling for him to “swiftly” set up a process for sharing doses that will go unused in the U.S. with other countries.

“Aside from altruism, it makes sense,” Wild said. “This pandemic doesn’t end until we stop it on a global basis.”