Biden’s $2.7 billion investment in supply chains is a cynical boost to Big Pharma’s continued control over vaccine supplies

The Biden administration’s plan to invest $2.7 billion of funds appropriated by Congress in May to help make the U.S. “the arsenal of vaccines for the world” is instead a cynical move that further entrenches Big Pharma’s control over vaccine supply, price, and distribution.  

Activists have been clamoring for a temporary waiver of intellectual property protections on COVID-19 health technologies at the WTO, for mandating technology sharing or transfer to additional producers in all parts of the world, and for the U.S. and others to invest in expanded manufacturing capacity, vaccine procurement, and vaccination programming to meet urgent demand for vaccines everywhere in the world.

Instead of requiring Big Pharma companies to share their vaccine recipes and to actively transfer secret manufacturing know-how, data, and biologic resources, President Biden is providing yet another taxpayer subsidy to companies that have already received unprecedented infusions of public funding for vaccine development, clinical trials, and expanded manufacturing capacity, and that stand to make tens of billions of dollars in profit on vaccine sales.  The $2.7 billion will only go to vaccine component manufacturers in the U.S. and only for the benefit of U.S. vaccine manufacturers.  Products covered include lipids, bioreactor bags, tubing, needles, and syringes. Meanwhile, efforts to expand manufacturing capacity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America are limited to fill-and-finish agreements that leave vaccine recipes secrets and Big Pharma in full control.

Instead of enabling the cartel-like moves of pharmaceutical billionaires, the Biden Administration should take real steps to scale up global vaccine manufacturing.  It should get off the fence and agree to a waiver text at the WTO.  It should force companies – with incentives and powers under the Defense Production Act, march-in rights, and government use rights – to transfer technology to independent qualified producers elsewhere, including via support for WHO Technology Transfer Hubs.  And, it should invest in vaccine manufacturing capacity, vaccine procurement, and vaccination service delivery to vaccinate the world. 

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The Biden administration promised patents wouldn't stand in the way of people around the world accessing life-saving COVID-19 vaccines. But they haven't matched those words with action. Every day the U.S. fails to break Big Pharma monopolies, more people get sick and die from COVID-19.

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