Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO

A group of nine senators who caucus with Democrats, including Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenHillicon Valley — Presented by Connected Commerce Council — Incident reporting language left out of package Exporting gas means higher monthly energy bills for American families Senators turn up the heat on Amazon, data brokers during hearing MORE (D-Mass.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinWisconsinites need infrastructure that is built to last  Wisconsin senators ask outsiders not to exploit parade attack 'for their own political purposes' Senate Democrats call on Biden to push for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers at WTO MORE (D-Wis.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale Overnight Defense & National Security — Lawmakers clinch deal on defense bill White House 'strongly opposes' Senate resolution to stop Saudi arms sale MORE (I-Vt.), is pressing the Biden administration to push for a waiver of international intellectual property rules for vaccines at the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference. 

In a letter sent Tuesday, the senators urged President BidenJoe BidenHouse passes 8B defense policy bill House approves bill to ease passage of debt limit hike Senate rejects attempt to block Biden's Saudi arms sale MORE to work with other world leaders, especially those from the European Union, to reach an agreement on a "meaningful waiver" that would boost production of COVID-19 vaccines for the developing world.

"By securing a waiver agreement at the WTO Ministerial, your Administration can demonstrate real and impactful American global leadership," the lawmakers wrote. "If the Ministerial Conference cannot deliver a solution, the WTO—and the wealthy nations blocking the waiver—will continue to lose credibility with the developing world. We urge you to seize this opportunity to engage actively and productively at the WTO [to] deliver on your promise to defeat the pandemic."

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The letter was also signed by Democratic Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBiden's pick for bank watchdog pulls out after GOP accusations of communism Senate race in Ohio poses crucial test for Democrats Powell says Fed will consider faster taper amid surging inflation MORE (Ohio), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySenators seek to curb counterfeit toys and goods sold online Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Southern Company — Pledged money not going to Indigenous causes MORE (Mass.), Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyFive things to know about Russia's troop buildup near Ukraine  Senate Democrat says he will 'settle' for less aggressive gun control reform 'because that will save lives' Ernst on Russian buildup on Ukraine border: 'We must prepare for the worst' MORE (Conn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrats seek to avoid internal disputes over Russia and China Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo Lawmakers call on Olympic committee to press China on human rights abuses MORE (Ore.).

The administration in May said it backed a temporary waiver of international patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines, but little progress has been made since, the lawmakers wrote.

"The United States and European Union nations have provided billions to pharmaceutical companies for the development and distribution of the most effective vaccines. Despite this public investment, the intellectual property is now privately held, pitting pharmaceutical profits against public health interests," they wrote. 

Democrats and international advocates argue Biden has a moral imperative to help the world, and that sharing vaccine intellectual property is the best way to do it. They say higher vaccination rates in developing countries can save lives and reduce the likelihood of new variants that could jeopardize progress on the pandemic. 

“A waiver will unlock local production of vaccines in developing countries, which is necessary both to overcome absolute shortfalls in supply and to ensure people in the developing world have reliable access to vaccines. The only way to end the pandemic is to increase vaccination rates to ensure that new variants cannot emerge from mass outbreaks," the lawmakers wrote. 

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The waiver would temporarily lift patent and other intellectual property protections to help expand the production and deployment of vaccines during supply shortages. 

The debate has exploded in the U.S., as dire scenes in low-income countries contrast with the reality in America, where millions of people are getting vaccinated daily with first doses as well as booster shots.

Biden had been under mounting pressure from lawmakers in his own party; 110 House Democrats wrote to the president earlier this year, urging him to support the waiver.