Calling the issue a matter of "common sense and morality," Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday—backed by millions of Americans demanding the same—urged U.S. President Joe Biden to support an international effort to suspend coronavirus-related patent protections that are artificially limiting vaccine supply and depriving poor nations of access to life-saving shots.
"We must do everything humanly possible to crush this global pandemic and save millions of people who are in danger of needlessly dying," the Vermont senator said during a virtual event hosted by Public Citizen and joined by other lawmakers and public health advocates.
"Ending this pandemic requires collaboration, solidarity, and empathy. It requires a different mindset... the mindset that tells the pharmaceutical industry that saving perhaps millions of lives is more important than protecting their already excessive profits," Sanders continued, echoing experts' warnings about the emergence and spread of vaccine-resistant mutations. "To me, this is not a huge debate, this is common human morality."
The Friday event was held to mark the delivery of two million petition signatures calling on Biden to endorse the patent waiver, which the U.S. and other rich nations have blocked repeatedly since India and South Africa first introduced the proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) last October.
Matthew Rose of Health GAP, one of the advocacy groups behind the petition drive, said during the virtual gathering Friday that "it's time the Biden administration stopped dragging their heels and got on board with the millions of people supporting the... waiver, which will save lives and help end the Covid-19 pandemic."
According to a Data for Progress survey released last week, 60% of U.S. voters want Biden to support the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver, which is backed by more than 100 WTO member nations. The proposal would lift a key legal barrier preventing generic manufacturers around the world from replicating vaccine formulas.
"This event and the success of these petitions shows that not only is the TRIPS waiver the right thing to do to end the pandemic everywhere and stop vaccine apartheid, but that it is overwhelming popular," said Ben Levenson of People's Action. "At this point the only thing standing in the way of the Biden administration is their willingness to stand up to the greed of the pharmaceutical industry."
Watch the full event:
The virtual event came as global coronavirus infection numbers continue to surge in large part due to exploding case counts in India, Brazil, and other countries that have struggled to vaccinate their populations amid inadequate supply and deeply unequal distribution.
In a New York Times op-ed on Friday, the head of the World Health Organization estimated that people in low-income countries have received just 0.3% of the total number of coronavirus vaccines administered across the globe. People in high- and upper-middle-income countries, meanwhile, have received 81% of total doses.
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who is leading the effort to build support for the waiver among U.S. House lawmakers, said during Friday's livestream that "this is an international pandemic, and time is running out."
"The answer is right in front of our eyes, a waiver at the WTO to allow countries to be able to produce their own pharmaceuticals, vaccines to help people who are sick, to really save the day," said Schakowsky. "We need to do this now."