TRIPS Petition Virtual Press Conference – Video and Transcript

Sens. Sanders and Baldwin, Reps. Blumenauer, Schakowsky and García, and Advocates Urge U.S. to Join 100 Nations Backing Waiver at May WTO General Council

In advance of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) May 5 meeting to again consider the waiver, the lawmakers and advocates urged the White House to support an emergency COVID-19 waiver of WTO intellectual property rules, so that greater supplies of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests can be produced in as many places as possible as quickly as possible. The pandemic cannot be stopped anywhere unless vaccines, tests, and treatments are available everywhere, so variants that evade current vaccines do not develop.

Lori Wallach
We are honored today to be joined by members of Congress heads of labor, development and health organizations. And the urgency of this moment the importance of these millions of petitions of people petitioning governments to support the TRIPS waiver, the emergency temporary lifting of WTO barriers of intellectual property monopoly for creating more vaccines more medicines is extremely urgent in the global COVID pandemic. Yesterday in Geneva, the TRIPS council met and once again, there was no agreement to start negotiating the text of this urgent waiver. The same questions have been answered repeatedly, the same claims have been debunked, were aired again. In this context, it’s a jarring contrast, given the Biden administration has done a fantastic job gearing up domestic vaccination. But that enormous progress and success can only be secured if people around the world in other countries also have access to vaccines. Otherwise, variants some that could get around our vaccines certainly could be hatched in outbreaks in any part of the world and travel around the world undermining these gains. That it’s not just a slogan that we’re only safe if everyone is safe. And to that end, the United States must stop blocking an initiative at the WTO, supported by more than 100 countries yesterday, more countries even co-sponsored. Nothing makes this more urgent than the fires of outbreaks that are hitting India, Brazil where new variants are being detected every week. The math is very simple. Under current projections developing countries will not get herd immunity level vaccination until 2024. That means untold deaths, untold numbers of unnecessary deaths, but also it’s against our interest of ensuring our safety here. That is why it is notable that worldwide there is an increasing demand for the TRIPS waiver. That is in part why 2 million petitions have been sent by this team of groups. We’re announcing the release of them today. It was dozens of organizations who made this happen and who are responsible for this event. Today we will be starting our presentations with Congressman Earl Blumenauer democratic congressman who is the chairman of the Subcommittee on trade of the Ways and Means Committee, the place in the House of Representatives for trade policy is made. He is a current democratic congressman from the state of Oregon, who’s a national leader on trade, please. Congressman Blumenauer.

Rep. Blumenauer
Thank you, Lori. Thank you so much for organizing this important conversation. It is such an honor to be here with my dear friend Jan Schakowsky, with whom we spent a lot of time this last Congress, dealing with some of the issues that the pharmaceutical industry and trying to when we were dealing with the NAFTA 2.0, where we stood up, spoke loudly and clearly and were able to initiate policy that put the pharmaceutical industry at arm’s length. What’s happening now around the globe, they’ve done a great job directing the vaccines, but they are focusing on profitable markets, not on helping people in need. And what Lori mentioned, and we’re seeing outbreaks around the world. What’s happening in India right now is terrifying. And the fact is that America is not going to be safe, no matter how successful the Biden administration has been in amping up that our own vaccination program. If we have billions of people around the globe that have not been vaccinated because this horrific disease will continue to mutate and ricochet around the globe. This TRIPS waiver doesn’t have to be that complicated. We know that granting the waiver and having American leadership, we can work with the pharmaceutical industry, and some of these developing countries to be able to produce the vaccines that are necessary. Many of them are already manufacturing vaccines. And if we have the cooperation of the industry, and the leadership of the United States, we can make this a reality. Make it a reality. We’ve already as a country, invested heavily in their profits, we subsidized research. They’re not giving away the vaccines, the United States for free. I urge the administration to step up and provide leadership in this regard. I’m a strong supporter of President Biden, they’ve done some terrific things. This is one area that calls out for American leadership. And as Jan will elaborate as well, we have a number of members of Congress, they’ve been calling for it, along with 100 countries around the globe. So I’m pleased to add my voice to work for this. And to make sure that we grant the waiver and make it a reality. We don’t have to get hung up on technicalities. This is a matter of life or death, not just for other countries, but for Americans. Thank you. Thank you very, very much.

Lori Wallach
Thank you very much. Congressman Blumenauer. It’s now my honor to introduce Congressman Jesus Chuy Garcia, democratic congressman from Illinois, please. Mr. Garcia.

Rep. Garcia
Thank you very much. I’m in Chicago, in the beautiful Midwest. We come together today, as congressman Blumenauer hands underscored to call on the White House to support a TRIPS waiver at the WTO. This important policy will allow developing countries to access life-saving COVID vaccines faster, which keeps us all safe, it’s time to reverse the Trump administration’s obstruction and put human lives first, not pharma company profits. This is an issue I’ve been advocating for since last year, lives could have been saved if the waiver had already been implemented. As we know, this virus does not respect borders, the way it’s going now, poor countries won’t reach herd immunity until 2024. How many have to die. And if any of us want to be protected from this virus from Mexico to South Africa to right here in Chicago, we need to change that now. My colleagues and I are going to keep working and keep fighting for this commonsense policy because the beating COVID can’t wait. And we’re all in this together. Thank you.

Lori Wallach
Thank you very much, Congressman Garcia. Your inspiring words like always inspire and move me and the millions of people across this country who are fighting to get the Biden administration to show its global leadership and we join the global community by supporting this waiver. Thank you very much, Congressman Garcia. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois, who has been a leader on health issues for many years in Congress and is the chair of the subcommittee of the Commerce Committee of the House of Representatives on consumer and health issues. Congresswoman Schakowsky, please.

Sara Nelson
Thank you, Lori. And I want to thank you and the millions of people who have signed a petition, the hundreds of countries that are now asking for help. And for we’re getting close to 100 members of Congress who have signed on to a letter to the president saying that we need to support as the United States the TRIPS, waiver, and sending her own letter to the president some time ago has been the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. This is an international pandemic and time is running out. And by that I mean that no one is safe wherever the virus exists, because it can spread and will spread around the world and there will be new virus that put us all at risk. And so the answer is right in front of our eyes, a waiver at the WTO to allow the countries to be able to produce their own pharmaceuticals, their own vaccines, to help people are sick, that could really save the day. But we need to do this now. Big Pharma is really standing in the way. And we have seen that they’ve written their own letter to the president that says that intellectual property rights are at the core of any kind of innovation, of distribution of research and development. And the truth is that the biggest investors are really the taxpayers. I appreciated it when Dr. Fauci got his shot in the arm. He called it the NIH vaccine. Because we are we all have a stake in this and we all have a stake in our health. We are watching the pharmaceutical companies, especially Pfizer talk to its stockholders and its investors, and that they are going to raise COVID-19 vaccine prices. And they are looking forward to boosters every single year, they are not talking about doing that at a low rate. They are interested in the rich countries. And so we have an obligation, I believe, for our own citizens. And the money by the way that we’re spending to help the hospitality industry and the airlines. All of that will be for not if we don’t crush the virus worldwide. And in the meantime, China and Russia are stepping into the breach here. We want to be the country that leads the way for this temporary wave waiver of the TRIPS agreement. And we could do it, we could do it now. And there’s a meeting this coming up on the fifth of May. But if the United States took a position at any time now, it would make a difference with the handful of countries who are standing with us against the waiver. So let’s do it.

Lori Wallach
Thank you very much, Congresswoman Schakowsky. And again, enormous appreciation for the leadership of our three congressional champions here on the team of other colleagues that you have who are fighting very hard to put the U.S. on the right side of history with respect to this important step, the waiver. We are going to be taking questions for the House members because they’re going to some of them have to hop off so members of the press, please use the Q&A function. And while we are going to listen to several more speakers get your questions lined up. It is now my honor to introduce Sara Nelson. She is the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, AFA-CWA and her workers like the nurses like the teachers who are also working together in this with this broad coalition fighting for the waiver. They’re on the front lines every day practically in their workplaces, their safety being risked by not having global access to vaccines. Sara Nelson, please.

Sara Nelson
Thank you so much, Lori, and I appreciate so much Congressman Blumenauer and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, and Congressman Garcia for making it very clear that there is a moral imperative to act here. I do want to make it very clear that as flight attendants, we have been on the front lines of Coronavirus from the very beginning. But let me go back, we have been dealing with stopping the spread of communicable disease at transportation store for decades. And we know what it looks like when the United States takes a leadership role in making sure that there is not a spread of a virus. Typically, we are going to other countries, we are lending our expertise, we are lending our science, we are lending our resources to stomp out that virus. We have pandemic fatigue going on. And we have had a situation where we have been looking inwardly for solutions, staying in our homes, looking to address our issues with our safety and our schools and our communities. And dealing with the fact that in the United States, this has been a major economic disrupter in addition to killing hundreds of thousands of people, including many of the people that I represent. So this is a health imperative colliding with an economic imperative, and we have to remove every single hurdle right now, to make sure that we can get everyone around the world vaccinated. We are asking flight attendants to come back and be certified and come back and do this work and fly to countries that we are not supporting getting vaccines into their arms, you’re asking us to send Americans into places where they are putting themselves and their families at risk just to go to work. And if we don’t get this right, we will not open up our international travel again, we will not have access to the business travel that is so important to the success of the airline industry. And the success of the airline industry is a part of our national security. It is a part of moving goods and services to all of our communities. So if you are someone who doesn’t even ever fly, this matters to you, because you are not going to have the same economic security and support in your community if you don’t have a strong aviation community or industry and network around the world. And so we are fighting for our members. We’re fighting for our country, and we’re fighting for our economic security everywhere. I want to thank the members who are on here today who have given support to a workers first program to support aviation workers. But all of that, as Congresswoman Schakowsky mentioned will be for not if we do not have President Biden take a leadership role. And be very clear that we have to remove all hurdles that nothing can stop us from getting shots in the arm of everyone around the world. And I’ll just close out with this. As a labor leader. We know that an injury to one is an injury to all. What has taught us that more than Coronavirus? If one person is at risk of still having this virus, letting it live in their bodies continues to have the possibility of variants. We are all at risk. We have got to get to work here and we’ve got to take a leadership role. Thank you.

Lori Wallach
Here, here, Sara Nelson. Thank you very, very much. It is my honor to introduce Abby Maxman. She is the president of Oxfam America. And Oxfam, which has chapters around the world has been leading as well internationally as well as their excellent work domestically. In trying to do exactly what Sara just said, make sure that there is a global just response. Abby, please.

Abby Maxman
Thank you so much, Lori, and representatives. You know, while there are reasons to be optimistic in our fight against the Coronavirus here in the United States, the rest of the world is experiencing immense suffering. More than 3 million people have died. And as has already been said, India now has more than 300,000 new cases every single day. This is a monumental tragedy and one that we have the power to stop. We have multiple safe and effective vaccines, a miracle of modern science, and a testament to public investment in research and development and collaboration across national borders. What we lack is the political will to increase their supply and facilitate the distribution of these vaccines everywhere. Despite investing billions of our taxpayer dollars, we find ourselves at the mercy of a handful of corporations that have monopoly control over the life-saving technologies we all need. They control how many and where doses are produced and sold, and at what price and they are unable to make enough vaccines for everyone, artificially constraining their supply to boost their own profit. The result, as has been said, cutthroat competition for available doses, widening inequality and prolong suffering. One in four citizens of rich nations have had a vaccine and just one in 500 people in poorer countries have done so. And this inequality is a moral of public health and economic disaster that threatens to prolong the devastation we’re seeing around the world. And worse yet, if COVID is left unchecked, in other parts of the world, a mutation can render our vaccines less effective. So rather than slicing the existing pie vaccines evermore finely, we need to share the recipe so that we have enough for everyone. And that’s why we’re calling for people’s vaccine, one that is patent-free, mass-produced, distributed fairly, and made available free of charge to every individual around the world. President Biden must seize this historic opportunity to mobilize vaccine access to all by supporting a proposal at the WTO to temporarily waive intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to encourage generic manufacturing in their own markets. And just last week, more than 170 former heads of state and government and Nobel laureates signed a public letter urging President Biden to support this proposal. And they join 2 million people around the world who are calling for a people’s vaccine that would share the science and the recipe of vaccines. Scientists have done their jobs, Big Pharma CEOs and policymakers must do theirs. We need a people’s vaccine now. Thank you.

Lori Wallach
Thank you very much, Abby, and for Oxfam’s leadership. And we are going to now have the honor of hearing from Pauline Muchina. She represents the American Friends Services Committee. She is the public education and advocacy coordinator for the entire Africa region. And she has been one of the leaders in the U.S. faith community, fighting to make sure that the US is part of the solution to COVID as compared to blocking this important waiver. Pauline, please.

Pauline Muchina
Thank you, Lori, and to policymakers and colleagues on the platform. I also represent Advocacy Network for Africa… Take note that most nations without vaccines, including African countries, or people of color, we hear the cries from Brazil, from India to Kenya, my home country, please President Biden helps stop vaccine apartheid. The U.S. can take the moral high ground and lead the world in saving humanity from COVID devastation, by supporting the temporary TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organization, sharing technology to mass and locally produced vaccines is a smart invite investment for the United States. It’s also in the self-interest of the United States, each needs to protect itself from the new variants that can undermine vaccine achievements in the U.S., plus American people. As standing ready to be in solidarity with people around the world, a new study shows that 60% of Americans are willing to do that we must not have a repeat of the AIDS pandemic, where people millions of people died — 70% in the African continent. That was because of the restrictions at the World Trade Organization. When they were lifted, millions of lives were saved, we can have the same thing. And as the Africa CDC director says, with partnership, and shared technology, African countries are ready to mass and locally produced vaccines, President Biden, please support TRIPS waiver at the WTO. And also special drawing rights. This is your opportunity to save the world. As a person of faith, there is no higher calling, than standing in solidarity with the people around the world and to save lives around the world. Thank you very much.

Lori Wallach
Thank you very much, Pauline. We have the senators coming on, we have some very other very important speakers. But I want to pause to respect the time of the House members who have to leave for other appointments to be able to give the press an opportunity to ask questions of the speakers today. But you as well may ask questions Cate Oswald, who is with Partners in Health, to Tulika Singh, who is with Right to Health Action. Matthew Rose, who is a very senior person with Health GAP who are also on the line right now as we’re waiting for our senators. So I want to pause now and we have some questions. And we can start with Eric Martin from Bloomberg, if you want to unmute yourself, please. I see the queue here in order of who asked the question. So, Eric, please.

Eric Martin, Bloomberg
Yes, Lori, thank you so much. To ask about the expectations regarding a change in position from the administration because we know that the pharma industry has been lobbying hard on these points that protections for intellectual property for pharma companies have been a priority in past administrations in trade negotiations. And you know, what the expectation or optimism is to indeed see movement and see a shift in U.S. position that could provide the leadership to get the other outstanding countries at the WTO to support the waiver.

Rep. Schakowsky
I’d be happy to answer that this Jan Schakowsky. So, we know that there is support within the administration for this, we know that USAID, for example, in some of the people who are engaged in health activities are I think this is a good idea. As I said, we’ve had the Speaker of the House send a letter to, she sent out her own letter to the president and a growing number of members and members of Congress. I have spoken to the U.S. Trade Representative and feel that at least to the issue that she’s very sympathetic. She wrote that the market has failed us once again, to meet the needs of the international community. So, I think that all of the work that’s being done inside and outside has been heard and effective. And I am hoping that we’re going to see a change. I think that the fight is not only stagnant, but it is not stagnant. It is really developing now, with all the international supporters and the countries that are supporting it. So, I feel that there’s movement and I feel optimistic.

Rep. Blumenauer
I would just elaborate briefly I agree with what Jan said. And my conversations with Ambassador Tai. Jan and I both worked on the aforementioned issues dealing with pharmaceuticals, and NAFTA 2.0. She is keenly aware, sympathetic, the administration is I think, working this through. But clearly, Ambassador Tai and the team is aware of the challenges and I felt open to dealing with the issues with the pharmaceutical industry, you don’t you can’t just do this overnight. We need their cooperation. But I think it’s clear that we have leverage with the industry. We have very talented people in the administration, including Ambassador Tai. And I think the work that is being done with people adding their names, their voices to this drumbeat is making it more likely and easier for the administration to do the right thing.

Lori Wallach
Anyone else or should we take another question? All right, I’m going to combine two of them because they’re very similar from Alex Ellerbeck from the Washington Post and from Gavin Bade from Politico. It’s the same theme this is I will read Alex’s because it’s more detailed, but it’s the same theme. The pharmaceutical industry has argued that intellectual property rules are not hindering the global response to the pandemic, which is also Gavin’s point. Opponents of the waiver, say IP rights are not the main barrier scaling up vaccines in developing countries. Why do we think Gavin says why do we think a wave were to help? And Alex says, in part because the mRNA vaccines are so complex, they’re not facilities that can produce them. What’s the panel’s make of this other example of facilities and other countries that are prepared to manufacture mRNA vaccines where the IP constraints are the primary concern? And I will open that up to everyone. But let me just start by saying, yes, there are facilities that could do it. And there are numerous publications and get in touch with me, I can send you the slides that list the different places right now that could actually be gearing up mRNA capacity, but for the sword of Damocles liability of all the injunctions, lawsuits and attacks are going to happen unless IP is waived. So, but others, please?

Rep. Blumenauer
Well, I would just say that if the pharmaceutical industry decided they were going to be a partner with us, we could work through these.

Sara Nelson
Lori, let me offer this as the president of the Association of Flight Attendants. I know both as a union negotiator, and also the necessity of our relationships around the world and the access that we have as a leader in the world, that it is critically important that the United States step into this moment, take the lead, we can work with the pharmaceutical companies, we can work with the people who have concerns over protecting their rights, the TRIPS waiver is not something new, this is something that was contemplated in times of emergency, there has been no greater emergency or no greater example, as this moment. And if the U.S. steps in and takes the lead here, we can continue to enjoy the freedoms that we have enjoyed and taken for granted as Americans that we will give away. If we give room for someone else, such as Russia or China to step into this moment and take the lead, we cannot afford to have that happen. And on a smaller level, if we don’t engage here and get into the leadership role for these negotiations, then the end result may not be as good as the pharmaceutical companies or other people would like it to be. So they need to support the administration taking the lead and working with them to get an agreement that ramps up production that removes the barriers that continue to have the United States as a leader in the world, on taking care of the rest of the world and having access everywhere, because people trust us, and what we’re going to do for our own citizens and for those people around the world.

Matthew Rose
I’ll just add really quickly that we act like we haven’t had to build capacity for mRNA vaccines the entire time, the entire Moderna stock is the U.S. investment in building this capacity. So, allowing other people to have the recipe allows them to build that capacity. As you said, there are a number of papers that cite our ability to build this if set for they’re worried about the basically the lawsuits that come from violating IP laws. So, these are things that we can literally overcome. Because we’ve watched our ability to do technology transfer to build these, the thing that’s blocking the transfer is the fact that the TRIPS agreement remains in place and pharmaceutical companies get to decide at their discretion, whether they’re going to give any of this up, they have decided not to share, you can see by the fact that Moderna has basically sold zero of their vaccines to developing countries, and Pfizer barely sells any of their vaccines to developing countries. And when they sell them to them, they sell them after existing orders that are already to develop countries, meaning that they’re going to get them much later than everyone else. And a world where we are trying to race against variants. This delay hurts all of us.

Abby Maxman
And if I could come in and following Matthew, this is an all hands-on deck global emergency. And it just doesn’t make sense to grant a small number of private companies monopoly control over the recipe for these lifesaving vaccines that we all need. And we need the technologies to be global public goods, especially when taxpayers contributed billions of dollars in public dollars. We know there are factories all over the world that can produce the vaccines if they have the recipe and the technical know-how it’s absolutely possible and necessary, and we need to use every tool at our disposal, including the TRIPS waiver to get us out of the pandemic now.

Lori Wallach
Thank you very much. We’re going to return to some speakers. We see our senators have joined us. We are very honored to have Senator Tammy Baldwin and Senator Bernie Sanders have joined us. And first Matthew Rose, the Health GAP director of U.S. policy and advocacy, you just made a very important intervention, I would like to give you a minute to add anything you want to and then we will turn to our senators, please, Matthew.

Matthew Rose
Thanks so much, Lori, as an AIDS activist, I offer perspective in history on this. We have seen this exact conversation happened around ART back in the early 2000s. And guess what it was the Bush administration and Dick Cheney, who worked with a whole of government effort to see that we had to remove some of these protections for the good of the world. And with that, we saved millions of lives. As my colleague Pauline already pointed out, we were able to change the course of a pandemic by removing these barriers. And we have seen across this country and the world and in the delivering of this petition today that millions of people believe that we can do so again. It is a question of do we have the political courage required to meet this moment? And I think the answer is yes, we do. We don’t have to believe that the pharmaceutical industry is going to just self-destruct over us waiving these rights, it is an emergency waiver. And at some point, there has to be some sort of government intervention, when the market itself fails, we have cherished where they have gotten so far, and I am happy with what science is able to deliver. But science has to realize that they alone cannot do what governments were set up to do. And instances of market failure require both innovation and activation from governments. We have multiple government officials on the line today telling you that we have people who represent people across all of civil society saying the same thing. And the one thing we were all calling out for is that we need greater flexibilities so that we can change the course of this pandemic, we cannot just save the United States, we are linked to the global system because health does not know borders and does not know boundaries. And we have to do what we can to both help for the right more reasons. But even for our own reasons of national security and our own reasons, our own healthcare, we have the ability to do so we are the big stick in the room. And we have led before we have led him Republican administrations before we’ve led and Democratic administrations before and we can continue doing so setting that example that helps not only change the course of this pandemic but can change the course of what it means to respond to health crises in this modern era and the modern world.

Lori Wallach
Here, here, Matthew Rose, amen. Double what he just said for me. And it is now my honor to be able to introduce Senator Tammy Baldwin from my home state of Wisconsin, she and Senator Sanders, Sanders, Sherrod Brown, and Senator Elizabeth Warren helped lead the senate letter that had a dozen of their colleagues also writing to the Biden administration, urging them to remove the Trump era blockade on the waivers. Senator Baldwin, please.

Sen. Baldwin
Thank you so much, Lori, and to Public Citizen for bringing us all together today. And I had a chance to hear the dialogue that was occurring right before you introduce me, and it’s not fair to put me after Matthew Rose has just talked, but I want to, I’m going to say many of the same things with the Wisconsin passion, which is a little different. But I also want to say that I cut my political teeth during the AIDS epidemic at the local level. And we can’t fail to learn some of the lessons and use those now. So anyway, I also want to thank my colleagues at both in the Senate and the House were joined in this effort. So, we’re joined to send a really powerful and unified message to President Biden and Ambassador Tai to support the temporary targeted TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organization so that we can develop the most effective and most efficient global response to COVID-19. possible. And we all know that we need to use every tool at our disposal to move past this pandemic. And we know that we can’t be COVID-19 unless we are united. And unless we work with our global partners in this mission, as everyone on this call knows, the TRIPS waiver would learn lifts certain intellectual property barriers, to allow countries to scale up domestic production of their own pandemic supplies, and specifically ramp up production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. The TRIPS process itself was born out of the AIDS crisis, how we act will determine whether we learned those lessons. And we won’t be safe here until the whole world is safe from COVID. This week has brought deeply concerning news of mutations variants in India and record case levels across the globe. This targeted waiver would accelerate global COVID-19 vaccine and treatment deployment efforts. So we can prevent unnecessary deaths and illnesses and suffering around the world. I want to be clear, we have not yet beaten this pandemic. And people throughout the world are still struggling. And we know that we can’t fully recover unless we all recover. And we can’t afford to wait. The Biden administration has a real opportunity to do the right thing, to reserve the damage inflicted by the previous administration on our pandemic response, reverse it. And once again, prioritize public health on the global stage. So doing this will help all of us move forward. And I’m so hopeful that President Biden does just that. So thank you so much for having me join you and I’m going to turn it back to Lori.

Lori Wallach
Thank you so much, Senator Baldwin. great appreciation, and reporters, more questions in the Q&A. We’re going to have another Q&A session in a couple of speakers. We have Senator Sanders has joined us before we hear from him we’re going to hear from Tulika Singh. She is an MPH, she’s a PhD candidate in virology and vaccine allergy. And sadly, she has a personal experience about what it means not to have vaccines for the world, please Tulika.

Tulika Singh
Thank you, Lori. It is my honor to speak alongside everybody on this panel. Hi, everybody. As Lori said, I’m completing my PhD in virology and vaccine development and also have a Master’s in Public Health. I’m here today on behalf of Right to Health Action. We are a grassroots movement that is 127,000 strong across the country. We are fighting to stop COVID-19 and prevent future pandemics and ensure that everyone has access to life-saving vaccines now and in the future. Today, I want to tell you a story about my grandmother and tell you why we need to act now to make vaccines available globally. My grandmother raised me She is just so loving. No matter what mood you’re in my grandmother can always make it better. In every picture she’s smiling in every video she’s saying she even sang to the nurses at the hospital. Can you believe it? Especially I love her big hugs. It’s just the best thing ever. It’s all around you and I really miss it. In mid-October last year, my grandmother’s oxygen level dropped to dangerous levels. She lives in India. She was rushed to a hospital in Mumbai, India, where she tested positive for COVID-19. From there she was swept off to another hospital for COVID-19 patients only. She was separated from our family members. She was sick. She was confused and in a hospital where she couldn’t even speak the language. For 19 agonizing days, we waited on every message from the hospital. The lack of information from an overrun hospital was stressful. She didn’t deserve this. She raised a big family. Why couldn’t be we be with her? Day after day, her condition deteriorated. Until she was put on the ventilator she was barely conscious. She had a feeding tube through her nose and machines poked and prodded her arms. The doctors gave her more and more life support interventions. Still, on October 23, my grandmother died alone in a hospital in India of COVID-19. I remember that big hug, I can hear her singing in my head. And she is never coming back. I know that there are people out there today, who were unable to be there for your loved ones in their last moments because of this virus. We don’t want to keep living this nightmare over and over again. We want to be able to protect our families. Few in developing countries are projected to have access to vaccines this year, and if current trends continue, they may not have access until 2024. There are literally billions of impoverished people waiting in line for years while a rapidly mutating virus runs rampant. This pandemic will rage largely unmitigated amongst a significant share of the world’s populations, resulting in more deaths. And we risk a vaccine-resistant variant that puts the world back on lockdown. without sufficient vaccines just a couple of days ago, as the other speakers have mentioned, we saw a record high surge of cases in India, 314,835 new COVID cases in a day. These are not just numbers, these are people’s grandparents. They’re our brothers, our sisters, our parents, our cousins, these are the people we love. And my 89-year-old grandfather is still there, he continues to be at high risk of COVID and still doesn’t have the vaccine. How many days or even years this is going to be to my grandfather in India, and everybody’s grandparents and families around the world can have access to this life-saving vaccine. When can we all be safe? Forty-eight % of all vaccine doses administered so far have gone to just 16% of the world’s population living in high-income countries. That is a massive inequality. There is an enormous untapped manufacturing capacity already in countries like India, where my grandmother died. Western pharmaceutical corporations’ refusal to issue licenses to qualified manufacturers in Africa, Latin America, and Asia is a major cause of this shortage. The U.S. government grant intellectual property monopolies were never designed to be used in emergencies like pandemics perpetuating private monopolies on public research during this time of crisis is immoral. Unexpected exceptions have been created in the past to ensure that private monopolies are not a barrier for public health such as the exceptions for penicillin in the Second World War. Without action to share vaccines and vaccine manufacturing technologies. This pandemic will not be over. We simply cannot afford to delay lifesaving vaccines and allow this virus to take more lives. Today on behalf of Right to Health Action and alongside Senator Sanders and Baldwin, Representatives Garcia, Schakowsky and Blumenauer as well as NGOs like Oxfam and Partners in Health, I am calling on President Biden to show courage to join the world again by ending this vaccine apartheid to keep this promise to add a bar pen, a man dying of ALS, that patents would never be a barrier for poor countries, please support this TRIPS waiver and be a leader who saves millions of lives. We need to do something now. So we don’t have to deal with the pain of losing our loved ones. Again, President Biden, you are grandfather to you have suffered the loss of loved ones just like us. Please show compassion now and share the vaccines with the billions in the world who still need the vaccine and decisively bring an end to this pandemic so I can also be reunited with my grandfather. Please be the champion that we need to protect our families. Thank you, Lori.

Lori Wallach
Thank you so much Tulika. Thank you so much and our everyone’s condolences and love and thank you for that very very powerful intervention that says it exactly like it is. And is a perfect lead into Senator Bernie Sanders, a guy who on the regular says it exactly like it is and has been doing so since I have the honor of first meeting him during the NAFTA fight when he was a house member and was kicking butts then and great appreciation to Bernie Sanders for helping to lead the letter of senators calling for the TRIPS waiver. You guys are the perfect one to punch please, Senator Bernie Sanders.

Sen Sanders
Lori, thank you very much. And you know, when you go last than a discussion, there’s not a whole lot that you can add to what others have already said. But let me begin by just thanking all of you for your very hard work in obtaining 2 million petition signatures, asking President Biden to support a WTO TRIPS waiver. So, the greatest supplies of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests can be produced in as many countries as possible, as quickly as possible. To end this horrific global pandemic, we are experiencing as everybody knows, the world is in the midst of the worst pandemic, in over 100 years. Over 116 million people have been infected. And more than two and a half million people have died, have died from this virus, including over half a million and our country alone. And as you also know, many of those who have survived the virus will continue to endure its lingering effects for many years. You know, this, in my view is not a complicated issue. Common sense and morality dictate that we must do everything humanly possible to crush this global pandemic, and to save millions of people who are in danger of needlessly dying. Now, you know, it is one thing when somebody dies, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But it is another thing entirely when you have a tool at your disposal, that can save human life, and you do nothing about that. So, to me, it seems that this is not really a debatable issue. We have the tools to save human lives. And those tools should be readily available to all people. Poor people in Africa, in Asia, Latin America, and throughout the world, have as much right to be protected from the virus have as much right to live as people in wealthier nations. To me, you know, this is not a huge debate. This is common human morality. And that is why I and everybody else, in this discussion, have been urging the Biden administration to support the proposal to waive vaccine-related intellectual property rights at the WTO. In order to expand supplies of vaccines, ending this pandemic requires collaboration, solidarity, and empathy. It requires a different mindset. That’s the issue here, a different mindset. And it’s a mindset that tells the film, the pharmaceutical industry, that saving perhaps millions of lives, is more important than protecting their already excessive profits. You know, I don’t think this is a hard discussion. If the question is more profits with drug companies, was saving God knows how many lives? The answer is pretty simple. Further in this point has been previously made. You know, our government, the United States government, our taxpayers, have invested enormous sums of money into the production of these technologies. And as a result of those investments, all people in America and around the world should benefit from that investment. And it should not just go to a handful of very profitable drug companies from wealthy countries. President Biden and his foreign policy team have repeatedly made it clear that the United States must play a major role in promoting global cooperation as we speak. Importantly, President Biden now has brought leaders from countries trees all over the world, to deal with the existential threat of climate change. And I applaud them for doing that. But we have also got to take the lead in terms of the health welfare of people, including poor people all over the world. And a very good way to get moving in that direction to make the United States once again, the moral leader of the world, not just the most powerful military nation, but the leader, the moral leader of the world, his support is to support this waiver and make sure that the innovative technologies for producing vaccine vaccines are shared as widely as possible. Transferring these lifesaving technologies. By the way, it’s not just about responding to this pandemic, it’s about preparing for the next one. And we know the next pandemic is not a matter of if but when. And experts have recently been sounding the alarm, that low vaccine coverage enables the growth and spread of vaccine-resistant mutations. This isn’t just about showing global solidarity, as important as that is. It is in our own direct interest to help vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible to prevent the spread of virus mutations that could come back to the United States and force us to shut down again. So once again, on this enormously important health issue, this moral issue, the United States has got to do the right thing. And I applaud everybody who has done such an important job in raising constant consciousness on this matter. Thank you very much.

Lori Wallach
Thank you so very much. Senator Sanders. As usual, you hit it exactly home. We have reporter questions for several folks before we go to that the last speaker is Cate Oswald, from Partners in Health. She’s the chief policy and partnership officer and has the unenviable but important, cleanup battered job. We’ll hear a little bit from Cate and then we will go reporters to q&a with any members, Jan Schakowsky. There’s a question here for you as well that that are willing and able, I understand senator Sanders has a time crunch. So please, Cate,

Cate Oswald
Thank you so much. As I sat yesterday, a healthy low-risk 30 something for my first shot of the Pfizer vaccine. I couldn’t help but feel a huge sigh of relief and gratitude. But I also felt truly unsettled. Many of my clinical colleagues based in Peru and Lesotho, Liberia, Rwanda, had thankfully received their first doses through the global Kovacs mechanism back in March, and we had all celebrated. But this morning, however, we were discussing with worry the fact that I know in three weeks’ time, I’ll get my second dose here in Massachusetts, but we’re not sure when their second doses will be available. due to increased cases in India, the serum Institute supply of AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been the main source of COVAX cannot guarantee when their second ship shipments may arrive. These large-scale shortages of vaccine availability currently are due to the wide-ranging protection of intellectual property rights, in short, artificial scarcity created by pharmaceutical companies. The U.S. government could put an end to this pandemic worldwide this year by sharing these patents and know-how with everyone through the support of this TRIPS waiver, we know that time is of the essence we’ve all said this throughout the hour. We’ve seen these inequities in distribution before, as my colleague Matthew said, in the 90s antiretroviral therapy, lifesaving therapy for millions was withheld from the global south due to the racist ideas and policies of institutions on global governance. But we saw a change, a year ago, no company could produce a vaccine for COVID-19, and mRNA vaccine technology didn’t exist on the market. Yet today there are millions of doses protecting high-income countries, keeping our healthcare workers and most vulnerable safe. What will it look like another year from now we have options? Option A is to make the same mistakes we made in the 90s believe that scarcity is the only option believe that we cannot possibly create competition. And we cannot possibly let countries around the world produce their life-saving vaccines. We can let COVID spread in health systems that have already been trying to recover from Ebola respond to HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria. We can let millions more people die and the virus mutate. Or Option B we can rise above it. We can stand united with countries in the global south, we can stand up with the 55 member states in the African continent. And in the African Union who requested supported this waiver, we can join forces with the poor and partner with them to stop COVID-19 by making sure a trade agreement as old as HIV medicine is not in the way of progress, access, and the path out of the depth and economic upheaval this pandemic has brought. So, I will just reiterate that we asked for this for the Biden administration to take a leadership role in urgently supporting this waiver to the TRIPS agreement at the WTO meeting on May 5, so that the recipe and know how it can be shared as a global public good. Thank you.

Lori Wallach
Thank you very, very much, Cate. And now we are open to questions and answers. We have one very specific one for Senator Sanders. But that’s actually a question that is the same question. Other reporters asked for Congressman Schakowsky to pine about which I don’t think she did. Which was what is your view about what progress is being made you see any movement on this issue at this moment in the administration, and that’s something for everyone to answer. Some folks had some words to say about that. But this is a question from Andrea Shalal from Reuters. But it follows up on Politico reporters asking for other members to add their views given Congressman Blumenauer’s video froze. So maybe Congressman Schakowsky first and then anyone else.

Rep. Schakowsky
I do want to speak to the issue, and I did before why I feel optimism. I know that there are places within the Biden administration, USAID, there are some people who work with healthcare that are very interested in seeing this waiver. And there are letters, we’re almost at 100 signatures from Democrats in the House to the President. Nancy Pelosi has written her own letter in urging that the United States play a leadership role. You know, we’ve now got a senate letter that that is going, we have 2 million people who have signed their own names, there were 400 organizations that mailed to the president so that the momentum is really growing inside and outside of the administration to take action. And you don’t have to go beyond self-interest in order to see how sensible would be for us to act. And so the momentum is going to continue to build the meeting is May 5, although the president at any time, believe me, if the President of the United States was would say anything about taking a leadership role. The handful only a handful of other rich countries would certainly come along. And we would see people over profits because that’s really what it’s about. The pharmaceutical industry wants to maintain its intellectual property rights over the idea of saving millions of lives.

Lori Wallach
Thank you very much. Anyone else want to address that question? And I’m going to throw out related ones. What are the expectations on the timeline? If the administration takes the position are they expected to do so by, before, or after the May 5 meeting, the May 5 meeting being the hot deadline, but as congressman Schakowsky said any word at any moment would have the desired effect? And related to that, for the whole crew? If USAID supports this and other parts of the administration in the US Trade Representative is sympathetic, what are the obstacles then, to overcome in order to get the Biden administration to come out and formally support this at the WTO? Those are some of the questions. That was the Post. That was Reuters. And that was Bloomberg.

Abby Maxman
I’m happy to come in. Thank you. Yeah, I’ll start with the last one about where’s the resistance? And as everyone’s already noted, doctors support the waiver. Nurses support the waiver or congressional leaders support the waiver, heads of state and Nobel laureates support the waiver. And the resistance is coming from one place, Big Pharma. And over the past year, giant pharma companies have paid out $26 billion to their shareholders in the midst of the pandemic. Now, you know, it’s not like there’s not profit going around. And we cannot allow the pursuit of private profit to trump global public health and we know President Biden has a historic moment and opportunity to lead to bring the world out of this crisis. And the TRIPS waiver is a critical first step to achieving the people’s vaccine that we all truly, truly need.

Lori Wallach
Thank you. Anyone else?

Pauline Muchina
Yes. So, it’s important to understand that the US population actually wants this, you know, that our progress and progressive international data service and 60% of the U.S. population is willing to support this. So, President Biden has to ask himself, he sees standing with the U.S. population, or is he standing with Big Pharma? You know, and if he chooses to support the TRIPS waiver, he will be standing with the United States population 60%. If he doesn’t, he will be standing with Big Pharma. And so somebody asked that what is hindering this progress? It’s been said again, and again. And some of the issues also that are being taught such as all it there is too much policies and bureaucracy to make this happen, can be waived immediately, because where there is policy at the world, trade offices can be waived, so that the temporary TRIPS waiver can be implemented. So there is nothing that is preventing it from happening, other than profit, and selfishness, and governments that are hesitant to go against the pharmaceutical industry. So this government’s European and the U.S. government, have to ask themselves, are they standing with the global community, or they’re standing with a few profit makers, and thank God for them because they’ve helped, you know, to save our lives. I live here I am getting a vaccine. But my mom who is over 90 years old in Kenya can’t access the vaccine, because somebody is being selfish with the knowledge that he or she has gained to save humanity. So let them get out of their high horse and save humanity and forget profit for just a second, because they will pick it up immediately after this. But for now, they need to share that technology. Thank you.

Lori Wallach
Pauline, thank you so much. I am tempted to end there as we are over the hour of our live stream. Does anyone else have any closing notion? Or does Pauline get the last kick-ass word?

Sara Nelson 

It was kick-ass, Lori. This is Sara Nelson, again from the Association of Flight Attendants. And I would just say that this is about urgency. Now, I want to just give us a little bit of perspective that President Biden pick this up, as we were in the middle of this crisis, and we’re trying to pull it back in and get control and have a plan. Normally, the United States would be at the front of stopping the pandemic in the first place. The fact that it has been allowed to persist and grow and create so many problems that now we have to get our arms around it. President Biden has been working on getting those vaccines distributed in the United States, I have no doubt that the President is going to take a leadership role. He said the United States is back on the world stage. We are back. We are back as leaders. What he said in that moment is that he can do nothing but support this TRIPS waiver, because this is how we are truly going to be a leader in this moment when this is the crisis that we are facing right now. So I have no idea no doubt that President Biden is going to do it. We need to continue to force the urgency of that decision and ask for his leadership to step up right now. And to make that very clear right now.

Tulika Singh
We’ve got I’m also going to add that we’ve got more than 100,000 people fired up just like me who are watching Joe Biden closely on this. Joe Biden has lost loved ones like I am now millions of others. Do the right thing.

Lori Wallach
Thank you, everybody. Three times kick-ass array, and also wisdom and kindness. And all of the substantive arguments that this is, as Bernie said, this is not a difficult choice. This is a power question. And this is some of the power arrayed in favor of doing the right thing and having the Biden administration do the right thing to bring the pandemic to its soonest end for the moral right of the world and for the self-interest of the United States. I thank everyone for joining us, the speakers, the press for joining us today. This will be available online that the full tape for everyone soon, a transcript. I thank everyone again one more time for joining us and for everyone who has been watching on live stream because we’ve had a ginormous livestream audience. Thank you all for your interest. Thank you and all. Goodbye.