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Bernie Sanders slams ‘profit-driven’ approach to Covid vaccines

‘We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine,’ the Vermont senator said

Nathan Place
New York
Thursday 11 March 2021 21:33 GMT
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Senator Bernie Sanders says intellectual property rights should be waived for life-saving Covid vaccines
Senator Bernie Sanders says intellectual property rights should be waived for life-saving Covid vaccines (Getty Images)
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Senator Bernie Sanders on Wednesday accused the companies making Covid-19 vaccines of valuing patents over people.

“It is unconscionable that amid a global health crisis, huge, multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical companies continue to prioritize profits by protecting their monopolies and driving up prices rather than prioritizing the lives of people everywhere,” the Vermont senator said in a YouTube video.

Instead of guarding the copyrights to their vaccines, Mr Sanders said, corporations like Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson should share their wealth of knowledge with poorer countries and companies. This would speed up vaccine production around the world, he argued, and help end the pandemic faster – something he said he would tell President Biden.

“Today I am sending a letter to the Biden administration to support a proposal to waive vaccine-related intellectual property rights at the World Trade Organization so that we can rapidly expand supplies of vaccines,” Mr Sanders said.

India and South Africa have lobbied for such a waiver at the World Trade Organization, but Western nations – including the United States – have repeatedly blocked it.

The plan is also supported by dozens of other nations, and by the head of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“We need equal access to life-saving tools everywhere, if we are to end the #COVID19 pandemic,” Dr Tedros tweeted. “If a temporary waiver to patents cannot be issued now, during these unprecedented times, when will be the right time?”

But American corporations have pushed back, calling the rights-waiving proposal a bad idea.

“Proposals to waive intellectual property rights are misguided and a distraction from the real work of reinforcing supply chains and assisting countries to procure, distribute and administer vaccines to billions of the world’s citizens,” the US Chamber of Commerce, a lobbying group for US businesses, said in a statement.

“Diminishing intellectual property rights would make it more difficult to quickly develop and distribute vaccines or treatments in the future pandemics the world will face.”

Meanwhile, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which lobbies for drug companies, has written its own letter to President Biden.

“The proposal marks a significant escalation in anti-IP global activism and will further polarize legitimate conversations on countries’ engagement to combat the pandemic,” PhRMA wrote.

Senator Sanders slammed such arguments on Wednesday as greedy and shortsighted, pointing out that American taxpayers largely paid for the research that enabled these companies to create their vaccines in the first place.

“All people should benefit, not just a few already obscenely wealthy CEOs and shareholders in the wealthiest country on earth,” Mr Sanders said. “We need a people’s vaccine, not a profit vaccine.”

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