Democratic Lawmaker Pushes Biden to Back Vaccine-Patent Waiver


A top Democratic lawmaker is pushing President Joe Biden’s administration to support a waiver for sections of the World Trade Organization’s intellectual-property rules to improve vaccine access for poorer nations.

Representative Jan Schakowsky, a progressive from Illinois, said on Thursday that she’s drafted a letter asking Biden to reverse the Trump’s administration’s opposition to removing the barrier for production in developing countries. Schakowsky said that she brought up the proposal at a Democratic caucus meeting on Wednesday, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed support. Pelosi’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Schakowsky, who as chief deputy whip is one of the Democrats’ top vote counters in the House, said that she’s hopeful other lawmakers will join her. Pharmaceutical companies oppose the move, arguing it would scare off future research investment. The U.S. needs to allow developing nations to produce Covid-19 vaccines locally to increase production as quickly as possible in order to speed up inoculations for billions of people, she said.

“We must make vaccines available to everyone, everywhere, if we are going to crush the virus anywhere,” Schakowsky said in an online briefing. She said that the proposal aims to “save millions of lives that would be unnecessarily lost if the United States were to maintain the position of siding with the intellectual-property rights of the pharmaceutical companies.”

Representatives from all 164 WTO member states met in December in Geneva to discuss a proposal from India and South Africa to waive parts of the organization’s rules and to try to forge a deal on how patents developed in the race against Covid-19 should be recognized.

The meeting ended without consensus, leaving poorer countries that sponsored the proposal frustrated and legal protections for vaccines intact. That may be a victory for patent-protection advocates, but pressure for change will only grow if billions of people in poorer countries go unvaccinated while the rich world starts getting a steady flow of doses from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc.

The European Union, which along with the U.S. is home to leading drugmakers, also has vehemently opposed the waiver proposition.

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