Biden Must Keep Promise to Vaccinate the World, International Public Health Advocates Demand

Advocates Call for Comprehensive Waiver of WTO Intellectual Property Rules, Congressional Funding for Global COVID Fight

For Immediate Release: May 10, 2022
Contact: Matt Groch, mgroch@citizen.org, (603) 560-0847

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Joe Biden should keep his promise and deliver a waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property barriers to global vaccine production, advocates said in a series of powerful new video messages from Be A Hero’s Ady Barkan and Jamila Headley, as well as international health experts. The messages were featured at a Tuesday night candlelight vigil in front of the White House – part of a series of actions demanding bold action to achieve global vaccine equity in the days leading up to the Global COVID Summit.

Activists are calling on Biden to: (1) demand that Congress pass funding to help vaccinate the world; (2) deliver a comprehensive waiver of WTO intellectual property rules for COVID vaccines, tests, and treatment; and (3) to reject an alternate proposal that would not achieve the president’s global vaccine equity goals.

“The U.S. is failing to lead and failing to heed our own exhortations,” said Barkan. “Biden must put diplomatic muscle behind his commitment at the global summit and convince the EU and world leaders to secure a waiver at the WTO that includes vaccines, testing, and treatment. Only then can we hope to end the pandemic for all.”

In 2021, Barkan released an op-ed in The Nation and a video message to Biden – which received hundreds of thousands of views – reminding Biden of his promise to share the vaccine technology with the rest of the world. Just days later, to the world’s delight, Biden announced his support for a waiver of WTO intellectual property rules that impede global vaccine production. His announcement created the momentum for a waiver, which now enjoys the support of the vast majority of WTO member nations. But a year later, no waiver has been delivered at the WTO due to the EU’s intransigence and anemic support from the U.S.

Then on May 3, an alternative text was presented at the WTO, which is significantly worse than the original proposal. Civil society and academic experts around the world have called the leaked text “the lowest common denominator” and “worse than nothing.” The worst elements of the now-tabled text can be traced directly to the EU, the primary opponent of the waiver. But the text’s exclusion of tests and treatments, as well as its geographic limitations, appear to be the handiwork of the U.S.

“While some policymakers want to turn the page on COVID-19, the world is just one variant away from another year of lockdowns, death, and suffering,” said Melinda St. Louis, Global Trade Watch director for Public Citizen. “To avoid showing up empty-handed to the summit, Biden must take concrete steps to deliver on his promised waiver of WTO intellectual property rules and congressional funding for the global COVID-19 fight. The anniversary of Biden’s support for the waiver is an opportune moment to update the U.S. position, as effective treatments are now available but still out of reach for many worldwide.”

In the weeks leading up to the May 12 Global COVID Summit, activists across the country have stepped up actions demanding greater vaccine access and funding for global vaccination efforts. On April 21, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) joined Barkan and Achal Prabhala of the AccessIBSA for a virtual town hall calling on Big Pharma giants Pfizer and Moderna to share the vaccine technology to end COVID. A few days earlier, activists took over the street in front of Moderna’s headquarters in Boston, Mass., demanding the company share the vaccine recipe with qualified producers around the world.

Additionally, on April 28, Barkan and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WTO, proposed resolutions at the Pfizer and Moderna shareholders meetings to study the feasibility of transferring vaccine technology and know-how to urgently ramp up production around the world. The resolutions were voted down.

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