Welcoming President Joe Biden’s new pledge to share 80 million coronavirus vaccine doses with other nations as a positive first step, dozens of House Democrats on Friday said the White House has an obligation to go much further to help redress enormous inequities in global vaccine distribution and bring the deadly pandemic to an end.
Specifically, 42 Democratic lawmakers are calling on Biden to support a $25 billion investment in the production of roughly eight billion mRNA vaccine doses, which would be enough to vaccinate half of the world’s population.
“As you know, wealthy countries have administered more than 80% of global vaccines while low-income countries have received just 0.3%,” the House Democrats wrote in a letter to Biden. “The New York Times editorial board recently issued a dire warning that ‘without a major course correction, the rest of the world will have to wait until 2023 or later for large-scale vaccination initiatives’ — a preventable humanitarian catastrophe that heightens the risk of the emergence of a vaccine-resistant viral strain that could impact all Americans.”
On Thursday, Biden unveiled his plan to donate 80 million excess U.S. coronavirus vaccine doses to countries around the world by the end of the month. The White House said that 75% of the doses will go to COVAX, the World Health Organization-backed global vaccination initiative that has struggled to meet its distribution targets due in part to inadequate supply.
In a press release, the Biden administration indicated that the first tranche of 25 million doses will soon go out to India, Brazil, African nations, and other countries that have struggled to vaccinate their populations as pharmaceutical companies maintain their profitable stranglehold on vaccine production.
House Democrats’ new letter — signed by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), and others — calls on the Biden administration to release the 80 million doses immediately and review the massive U.S. vaccine stockpile to distribute even more vaccines around the world.
The letter also demands that Biden use “all available tools of U.S. influence, persuasion, diplomacy, and legal authorities to facilitate the rapid and widespread transfer of technology and expansion of vaccine production; including directing the National Institutes of Health to participate in the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool program, and negotiating and securing vaccine licensing agreements with existing manufacturers to enable broad sharing of vaccine technology and industrial processes to scale up production.”
“The world cannot wait. It is imperative that the United States act quickly and deploy every tool in our arsenal,” the letter reads. “Now is the time to build international cooperation and solidarity in ways we have never seen before, including using the full force of U.S. diplomacy, economic and commercial leadership, legal authorities,and membership in multilateral institutions. The fate of our own health and safety in the U.S. is inextricably connected to the wellbeing and protection of the most vulnerable among us worldwide.”
Early last month, progressive lawmakers and global humanitarian groups applauded Biden for endorsing a temporary patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines at the World Trade Organization, a proposal that would lift a key legal barrier preventing factories across the globe from ramping up vaccine production.
But the proposed waiver, introduced last October by India and South Africa, remains in the negotiation phase as wealthy European countries, Canada, and other nations continue to object to suspending vaccine-related intellectual property rights — a move that would threaten the pharmaceutical industry’s bottom line.
The failure to suspend vaccine patents and rich nations’ hoarding of doses and key manufacturing technology have left much of the developing world highly vulnerable to Covid-19 and its spreading variants, which experts fear could undercut vaccination campaigns worldwide.
The New York Times reported earlier this week that “as rich nations like the United States prepare for a return to normalcy — at least half of the populations there and in Britain and Israel have received at least one dose of a vaccine, sending cases plummeting — some poorer nations, scrambling for shots and heaving under weary health systems and exhausted economies, are seeing their worst outbreaks since the start of the pandemic.”
“This is the case in Malaysia, Nepal, and other nations in Asia,” the Times continued. “But in few places is the situation as bleak as South America, which has the highest rate of new infections in the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, and Paraguay have all ranked in the top 10 in cases per 100,000 residents over the past week.”
In a tweet on Friday, Jayapal — chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — stressed that “a global pandemic isn’t over until it’s over everywhere.”
“We have the power to be a world leader and save lives — we can and must act,” Jayapal added.