Washington, Apr 16 (PTI) Ten Democratic Senators led by influential Bernie Sanders have urged US President Joe Biden to support India and South Africa's proposal to the WTO to temporarily lift certain intellectual property barriers and allow countries to locally manufacture COVID-19 diagnostics and vaccines, arguing that this is key to end the pandemic and a strong American recovery.
Simultaneously, another group of 18 Republican lawmakers has written a separate letter to Biden against such a proposal, arguing that the US would lose vital research and development capacity needed to prepare for future pandemics and other health security threats.
The Biden administration has not made a decision on the issue yet.
The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020 would temporarily lift certain intellectual property barriers and allow countries to locally manufacture COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines.
Allowing countries to manufacture locally will expedite access to vaccines and treatment, prevent unnecessary deaths, expedite global vaccination efforts, and facilitate a stronger, faster economic recovery, argued the Democratic senators.
“We write regarding the urgent need for the United States to support the temporary waiver of some TRIPS rules proposed by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) during the COVID-19 emergency.
'We urge you to support the adoption of this temporary waiver; doing so will help to ensure the most effective and efficient response to this once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic,” they wrote.
In addition to Sanders, the other Democratic Senators, who identify themselves as progressives, are Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy, Jeffrey Merkley, Edward Markey, Chris Van Hollen, and Raphael Warnock. The move by the 10 senators came after a similar letter to Biden by as many as 60 Democratic Congressmen in support of India’s move.
However, powerful Republicans have opposed this proposal.
“America’s strong IP infrastructure has facilitated rapid access to cutting-edge technologies to combat COVID-19, including diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines,” the Opposition Republican lawmakers wrote.
“Unfortunately, some longstanding opponents of IP have used the COVID-19 pandemic to try to weaken the exact polices that enabled the incredible global response. For example, India and South Africa are leading an effort at the WTO to suspend critical and broad IP provisions of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement,” the letter said.
“Supporters of the proposal have alleged, without evidence, that waiving these rights would result in large numbers of new manufacturers, particularly in the developing world, producing more vaccines,” said the GOP letter, led by Congressman Kevin Brady, Ranking Member of the Committee on Ways and Means.
The vaccine manufacturing process requires specialised experience, expertise and equipment. Developing and manufacturing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines on a global scale is a challenging and highly technical exercise. Indeed, there are only a few facilities in the world equipped to execute critical steps needed to manufacture mRNA vaccines, they wrote.
“Waiving IP rights will only frustrate ongoing efforts to produce and distribute safe and effective vaccines. The challenges to faster vaccine manufacturing are complex and relate to the technical and logistical barriers to rapidly and safely scaling-up production,” they said.
“To address these challenges, American companies are collaborating on an unprecedented scale to share resources and expertise to address supply chain issues and expand manufacturing capacity as quickly as possible. The misguided proposal before the WTO distracts from addressing these manufacturing issues and logistical hurdles, which constitute actual challenges to getting vaccines and therapeutics to people around the world,” the GOP letter to Biden said. On the other hand, the Democratic Senators asserted that the administration needs to make public policy choices, both in the US and at the WTO that put lives first. “This temporary, targeted TRIPS waiver is a critical tool in overcoming this once-in-alifetime pandemic; the benefits vastly outweigh the red herring arguments used by the pharmaceutical industry against the approval of this targeted, time-limited waiver,” they said.
“Your administration has the opportunity to reverse the damage done by the Trump Administration to our nation’s global reputation and restore America’s public health leadership on the world stage. To bring the pandemic to its quickest end and save the lives of Americans and people around the world, we ask that you prioritize people over pharmaceutical company profits by reversing the Trump position and announcing US support for the WTO TRIPS waiver,” the Democratic senators wrote.
Observing that the Congress has appropriated billions of dollars of emergency relief for the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries and is planning billions more, the senators said these industries will remain in crisis and reliant on billions more in government help until the pandemic eases.
“The faster we can bring this emergency to an end, the faster these industries can recover. The TRIPS waiver is key to the end of the pandemic and a strong American recovery,” they wrote. PTI LKJ PMS PMS PMS PMS