Ending COVID-19 Mask, Medicine Shortages

Statement of Peter Maybarduk, Director, Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines Program

Note: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) today announced the COVID-19 Emergency Manufacturing Act, which would require the U.S. government to begin manufacturing personal protective equipment, diagnostics and drugs in shortage, and require construction of manufacturing facilities for vaccines following positive indications of safety and efficacy. The legislation would facilitate technology transfer via patent licensing and a review of contracts for fair and reasonable pricing.

Coronavirus treatments and vaccines will be patented by single corporations selling limited supply at high prices and holding up development of better medical tools – unless the federal government intervenes.

The U.S. government must urgently ramp up manufacturing capacity, including public manufacturing. No corporation on its own has the manufacturing capacity to meet the extraordinary needs of the pandemic. It is a mistake to rely on corporate self-interest, which values secrecy and proprietary information over transparency and sharing technology.

Health care workers already struggle with shortages of masks, ventilators and drugs. This essential legislation would help prevent shortages from getting worse and protect against treatment and vaccine rationing.