As COVAX Falls Short, Biden Administration Continues to Block Efforts to Scale-up Global COVID-19 Vaccine Supply
Biden Administration Must Break from Failed Trump Policies and Drop Opposition to South Africa-led Request to Expand Global Access to Vaccines
As global access to COVID-19 vaccines reaches crisis levels, activists around the world are calling on the Biden administration to take immediate action to help end artificial vaccine scarcity and begin dramatically increasing global access.
In today’s White House COVID-19 Response Team briefing, Dr. Fauci said that ending the COVID-19 pandemic is “…a global effort and the more we get the virus controlled globally, the better off we’ll be,” adding that the U.S. “…will be part of that process as part of the global community…”
President Biden moved quickly upon taking office to reengage with the World Health Organization and join COVAX, but has not broken from Trump administration efforts currently blocking a request from South Africa and India for a waiver from certain World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules in order to expand COVID-19 vaccine access in their countries and throughout the world. COVAX announced today that it will only have enough doses of COVID-19 vaccines to cover an average 3.3% of the total population of the 145 participating countries.
“COVAX is one part of a global COVID-19 response, but charity is not a comprehensive public health strategy,” said Asia Russell, Executive Director of Health GAP. “The pandemic will not end if U.S. policy continues to prioritize protecting pharma profits over saving lives. President Biden must break from Trump on this life and death issue, drop U.S. opposition to the TRIPS waiver request, and keep his promise to share COVID-19 vaccine technologies with the world.”
“Monopoly protections on COVID-19 vaccines are keeping supply artificially low by blocking technology transfer and the sharing of know-how,” said Brook Baker, Health GAP Senior Policy Analyst and Professor of Law at Northeastern University. “Biden’s trade office is protecting pharmaceutical companies’ intellectual property rights and profits, even as people are dying from vaccine scarcity. Massive public funding de-risked the development of these vaccines – especially in this global health emergency, why should pharma companies get monopoly protection, too?”
Activists also called on Biden to expand global vaccine production capacity, whether drug companies give their permission or not, using existing federal statutes.
The TRIPS waiver proposal from South Africa and India is supported by more than 100 countries. It is a critical step toward expanding global access to COVID-19 vaccines in countries that are currently projected to have almost no access until 2023-2024. Negotiations on the proposal will take place February 4 at the TRIPS Council.
Earlier this week, Reverend Dr. Thabo Makgoba, the Archbishop of Cape Town, sent a letter to Dr. Fauci, CDC Director Dr. Walensky, and others leading the U.S. COVID-19 response calling on them to take urgent action to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines in South Africa and other low- and middle-income countries. Yesterday, activists from MSF, SECTION27, People’s Health Movement, and the Delhi Network of People Living with HIV delivered letters to U.S. embassies in India and South Africa calling on the U.S. to drop its opposition to the TRIPS waiver and allow governments to expand COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing.
“Continuing the Trump policy on the TRIPS waiver blocks sovereign countries from taking action to protect their people and prolongs the pandemic for all,” said Umunyana Rugege, Executive Director of SECTION27 in South Africa. “If the U.S. wants to truly engage with the global community in ending the pandemic, it must drop opposition to the TRIPS waiver during tomorrow’s negotiations. In South Africa yesterday, we picketed outside the U.S. embassy and asked the Ambassador to accept our letter and engage with us about the urgent need to ensure equitable distribution of COVID vaccines to save lives. We know that people die when we allow profiteering in the midst of a health emergency. We cannot allow people to die needlessly as happened with HIV. The U.S. can stop this by removing opposition to the TRIPS waiver.”