Progressive Dems urge Biden to lift intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines

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A group of progressive Democrats called on President Biden to temporarily relax COVID-19 vaccine patents at the World Trade Organization, arguing it's necessary to speed up global vaccination efforts. 

In a letter delivered to the White House on Thursday, the senators urged Bidden to "prioritize people over pharmaceutical company profits" and lift certain intellectual property barriers in order to allow generic or other manufacturers to make more vaccines, a move that would benefit poor countries that have struggled to obtain doses.

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"Simply put, we must make vaccines, testing, and treatments accessible everywhere if we are going to crush the virus anywhere," the letter said. Signatories include: Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.

More than 55 companies from the World Trade Organization support a temporary waiver – first proposed in October by India and South Africa – which they say would boost production and accelerate a lagging global rollout. But pharmaceutical companies, including the ones producing vaccines used in the U.S., widely oppose the move and have claimed it would not have the intended effect of speeding up production. 

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Biden has pledged $4 billion to an international effort to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries and offered to shares millions of AstraZeneca doses with Mexico and Canada. But Biden has not committed to the waiver, which was opposed by his predecessor, former President Donald Trump.

"Your Administration has the opportunity to reverse the damage done by the Trump Administration to our nation’s global reputation and restore America’s public health leadership on the world stage," the lawmakers wrote to Biden. 

Their appeal came shortly after 170 former world leaders and Nobel laureates urged Biden to support the waiver, warning the world's poorest nations will otherwise have to wait until at least 2024 to reach mass immunization. 

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"We believe this would be an unparalleled opportunity for the US to exercise solidarity, cooperation and renewed leadership," they said.

COVID-19 has killed close to 3 million people globally and infected more than 139 million. 

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