Health Care

Groups press Biden on intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

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More than a dozen medical and human rights groups have teamed up to call on President Biden to take action supporting an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, seeking to keep pressure on the administration in an effort to improve global access to the shots.

The 15 organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and Public Citizen, sent a letter to the White House on Friday requesting Biden’s “personal engagement” on the matter. The groups are pushing for a temporary waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to boost production and supplies for COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests. 

In the letter obtained by The Hill, the groups said they’re “very disappointed” with the Biden administration for its lack of action, beyond the president’s May endorsement, “as millions die or become seriously ill waiting for effective vaccines and treatments.”

The groups call for movement on this waiver at the upcoming WTO Ministerial Conference slated for the end of this month.

“The stakes could not be higher: Failure to enact a waiver will prolong the pandemic leading to more death, illness, economic hardship, and social and political disruption,” the letter reads. “The most important thing the WTO can do to end the pandemic is to get out of the way by removing WTO intellectual property barriers to saving lives.”

Such a WTO waiver needs the Biden administration to apply “maximum diplomatic and political pressure” in order to succeed. 

The administration has previously declared its support for an intellectual property waiver for the COVID-19 vaccines in May. The White House also called on all WTO members to back an intellectual property waiver for the vaccines last month. 

But the organizations said in the letter that there’s been “no progress on enacting it.”

Less than 7 percent of people in low-income countries have gotten their first vaccine, the groups said, signaling the shortage of resources and inequity of distribution worldwide. 

“In sum, the circumstances that led you to support waiving the WTO intellectual property barriers have not changed,” the letter said. “Nor has the reality that ensuring people worldwide can get vaccinated and have access to tests and treatments is how you end the pandemic.”

“President Biden, billions of people here and around the world are relying on you to deliver,” it continued. “Your leadership in securing a meaningful WTO waiver and helping to end the COVID-19 pandemic and the misery it is causing all of humanity is a moral necessity.”

So far, more than 5.1 million people worldwide have died from COVID-19, including more than 200,000 in about the past month. 

A total of 7.71 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered internationally, with the World Health Organization (WHO) saying earlier this month that six times more booster doses are given globally than initial doses in low-income countries.

The U.S. has faced scrutiny from the WHO for expanding vaccines to children and boosters to all adults as at-risk populations in other lower-income countries struggle to get their first doses.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 COVID-19 vaccine Intellectual property intellectual property waiver Joe Biden Pandemic patents Vaccines Waiver

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