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Presser: 400+ US Civil Society Organizations Call on Pres. Biden to Stop Blocking COVID-19 WTO Waiver to Boost Vaccines, Treatments Worldwide

MSF, Oxfam, Partners In Health, Human Rights Watch, Public Citizen, MoveOn, Indivisible, Unions, Faith Groups, Citizens Trade Campaign, Health GAP, and More Urge U.S. Support for Waiver at March 1-2 WTO General Council

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 26, 2021

CONTACT:  Matt Groch mgroch@citizen.org (202) 454-5111

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. consumer, faith, health, labor, human rights, development and other civil society groups urged the White House to support an emergency COVID-19 waiver of World Trade Organization (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.

At a press conference joined by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, (D-Conn.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), U.S. civil society leaders released a letter signed by hundreds of prominent U.S. organizations calling on the Biden administration to join more than 100 nations in support of the waiver. The Trump administration led a handful of countries opposed to the waiver at the WTO. At two recent WTO committee meetings, the new administration has not reversed the Trump era obstruction of the waiver.

The WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires countries to provide lengthy monopoly protections for medicines, tests, and technologies used to produce them. While there is production capacity in every region, WTO rules block the timely and unfettered access to the formulas and technology needed to boost manufacturing. Unless much greater volumes are made, many people in developing nations may not get COVID-19 vaccines until 2024. The unnecessary loss of life will be compounded by the loss of livelihoods for millions. According to an International Chamber of Commerce study, the world could face economic losses of more than $9 trillion under the scenario of wealthy nations being fully vaccinated by mid-2021, but poor countries largely shut out.

Statements from Participants:

U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Appropriations Committee chair

“The COVID-19 pandemic knows no borders and the need for vaccine development and dissemination across the globe is critically important. The TRIPS waiver raised by India and South Africa at the WTO would help the global community move forward in defeating the scourge of COVID-19 by making diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines available in developing countries. We must make vaccines available everywhere if we are going to defeat this virus anywhere. The U.S. has a moral imperative to act and support this waiver at the WTO, and I am hopeful that the Biden Administration will support this waiver to help our allies around the globe bring an end to this pandemic.”

U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade chair

“As a global community, we must come together and use every tool at our disposal to stop this pandemic,” Blumenauer said. “Unfortunately, we have seen intellectual property rules and corporate greed have disastrous impacts for public health during past epidemics, and we need to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Working to ensure that trade rules do not stunt the developing world’s access to vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests is a clear step. It’s the right thing to do not only for our country, but for the entire world.”

U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Senior Chief Deputy Whip and Energy and Commerce Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee chair

“I support the proposed TRIPS waiver because I support equitable vaccine distribution worldwide, because if vaccines aren’t available everywhere, we won’t be able to crush the virus anywhere. The new COVID-19 variants, which show more resistance to vaccines, prove that further delay in immunity around the world will lead to faster and stronger mutations. Equitable access is essential. Our globalized economy cannot recover if only parts of the world are vaccinated and have protection against the virus. We must make vaccines available everywhere if we are going to crush the virus anywhere.”

Paul Farmer, Co-Founder, Partners In Health

“If we want to stop COVID-19 here, we have to stop it everywhere. The world does not have time to wait for the usual, slow, and unequal distribution of treatments, diagnostics, and vaccines. We can take a lesson from the global AIDS movements and make sure patent laws don’t block access to lifesaving therapies for the poor. It’s a similar story for vaccines, which in the case of covid19 we’re so lucky to have and in such short order. Moderna has waived these rights and others should follow suit as we deploy one of the mainstays required to end this pandemic.”

Sara Nelson, President, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA

“COVID does not have borders and neither should vaccine access. Flight Attendants know our jobs depend on a strong global network. We must work to ensure that people around the world have access to the vaccine in order to eradicate this virus. We cannot succeed as a global community without taking care of all people.”

Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

“We have learned over the past year that pandemics are communal struggles. We are all vulnerable, and we all can help control the virus. In our nation, over 500,000 people have died and millions have been infected. The U.S. government has invested over $13 billion in taxpayer funds to create vaccines, and other developed nations have invested as well. Now, we in these rich nations have an obligation to share with the global community. That is the only way to protect the vulnerable here and abroad. Both faith and pragmatics demand it. When we faithfully care for our neighbors, we pragmatically care for ourselves.”

Yuanqiong Hu, Policy Co-coordinator, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Access Campaign

“Governments must not squander this historic opportunity and avoid repeating the painful lessons of the early years of the HIV/AIDS response. This proposal would give countries more ways to tackle the legal barriers to maximizing production and supply of medical products needed for COVID-19 treatment and prevention. Defending monopoly protection is the antithesis to the current call for COVID-19 medicines and vaccines to be treated as global public goods. In these unprecedented times, governments should act together in the interest of all people everywhere.”

Akshaya Kumar, Director of Crisis Advocacy and Special Projects, Human Rights Watch 

“Sharing the recipe for vaccines by pooling intellectual property and issuing global, open, and non-exclusive licenses could help scale up manufacturing and expand the number of vaccine doses made. This means instead of arguing about how to ration better we could be rationing less.”

Brook Baker, Health GAP Senior Policy Analyst & Northeastern University Professor of Law

“As an expert in intellectual property law and access to life-saving medicines, I can assure the Biden administration that IP barriers are real, and they’re blocking millions of people around the world from accessing life-saving COVID-19 vaccines. By obstructing the TRIPS waiver proposal, President Biden is breaking his promise to share COVID-19 vaccine technologies with the world. His administration must support the TRIPS waiver and send a message to big pharma that it’s unacceptable to write off the lives of 90% of people in low- and middle-income countries.”

Arthur Stamoulis, Executive Director, Citizens Trade Campaign

“Supporting this waiver is an easy way for the Biden administration to start reestablishing the United States’ standing within the international community, while also benefiting public health and economic recovery here at home. Trade rules cannot be a cudgel used to force countries into putting pharmaceutical company profits ahead of human life.”

Lori Wallach, Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

“What is the possible upside of the U.S. blocking this WTO waiver supported by most countries given there is manufacturing capacity around the globe to greatly increase supplies of vaccines, tests, and treatments if formulas and technologies are shared? We are in a race against time with a pandemic that cannot be stopped unless vaccines, tests, and treatments are available everywhere because outbreaks anywhere spawn variants that can evade vaccines and/or are more infectious.”

Link to Recording and Transcript of Full Press Conference.