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Statement: Biden’s COVID Summit Will Not Meet This Moment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, President Joe Biden is convening a virtual COVID-19 summit with world leaders, where he is expected to announce that the U.S. will purchase 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to donate to low- and middle-income countries. Peter Maybarduk, director of Public Citizen’s Access to Medicines program, issued the following statement:

“This summit deserves to be, needs to be, a debate of historic dimensions. Wealthy nations are using up the world’s vaccine supply, and developing nations are suffering and losing thousands of people every day. It is a fight over access to medicine and the basic right of countries to equip their own pandemic defense.

“But it won’t be that kind of debate, and that is deeply disappointing. The summit plan is for a long afternoon of videos, many of them recorded in advance. The hosts are unlikely to be significantly challenged by developing country governments and people at risk of losing their families. This means, as important as the summit is to corral further commitments, it will not produce the transformative response needed to end the pandemic.

“Ending the pandemic is a choice. Leaders at today’s summit have yet to make that choice. The White House still has not mobilized all its resources to expand vaccine manufacturing and protect millions more lives that may be lost. Purchasing doses for donation sometime next year is helpful, but it does not meaningfully expand the global supply, and it is not justice.

“The U.S. government has the recipe for the world’s most effective COVID-19 vaccine, NIH-Moderna, and can share this knowledge to help make billions more doses in the year ahead. The World Health Organization has established an mRNA manufacturing hub in South Africa and will need far more ambitious support than wealthy countries have offered so far. The U.S must work with South Africa and other nations among the 100-plus supporters to conclude negotiations in the next weeks of a temporary intellectual property waiver at the World Trade Organization.

“The alternative is to accept enduring pandemic dystopia, in which developing country health agencies are forced to compete for the purchase of scarce and less effective vaccines, with attendant breakthrough infections, death, variants and a longer pandemic for everyone, everywhere.”