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Monday, June 14th, 2021

Congress members call on drug companies to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines

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U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) joined other members of Congress to call on Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to expand access to the COVID-19 vaccine globally.

In a letter sent on May 5, Merkley, along with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Christopher S. Murphy (D-CT), asked the drug companies to update them on what their plans were to expand access to the vaccines, as well as to their plans for expanding vaccine manufacturing capacity around the world.

“COVID-19 has infected over 148 million people and killed over three million globally, with hundreds of thousands of new cases and thousands of deaths being reported daily. Though Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and other companies have developed safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the uncontrolled spread of coronavirus poses significant risks to global vaccination efforts: as the virus proliferates, it evolves—increasing the risk of a variant developing that renders vaccinations ineffective,” the senators said in the letter.

The letter comes as India faces record new cases of COVID-19 per day, causing a humanitarian and health crisis in that country. India is a major producer of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and has exported over 66 million doses of the vaccine globally since January 2021. However, in the midst of the recent surge of cases in India, the country is struggling to vaccinate people quickly enough.

The senators suggested the companies could share technology like vaccine recipes and manufacturing information with partner companies to speed up the production process. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set up multiple mechanisms to assist companies in transferring that technology, the senators said.

Proposals by representatives of India and South Africa at the WHO have called for the temporary waiver of some Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which would temporarily lift certain intellectual property barriers and allow countries to manufacture COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines locally.

Additionally, the senators called on President Joe Biden to allow the waiver proposal to advance to textual negotiation at the WTO’s highest trade body.