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Pressure mounts on US pharma giants to share vaccine technology as world losing out to Covid-19

Five prominent Democratic Senators dashed off a letter to Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson on Wednesday to voluntary share their technology as there is an acute shortage of vaccines in other countries including India.

While the Joe Biden administration is looking at a proposal to temporarily waive patents given to big US  pharma companies for Covid-19 vaccines, five prominent Democratic Senators have written a letter to these drug giants to voluntary share their technology so that the production of doses can be ramped up globally to defeat the deadly pandemic.

Five prominent Democratic Senators dashed off a letter to Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday to voluntary share their technology as there is an acute shortage of vaccines in other countries including India.  

The Joe Biden administration is considering a proposed waiver of intellectual property rights as one of the options for ramping up production of Covid-19 vaccines amid the acute shortage of doses worldwide , but no decision has been made as yet,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.

This is a welcome change in the US stand as Washington had earlier blocked a proposal by India and South Africa at the WTO to waive the patent rights of pharmaceutical companies over Covid-19 vaccines to allow developing countries to produce the shots.

“The US wants to maximise global production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines at the lowest cost, There are a lot of different ways to do that. U.S. officials are also studying whether it would be more effective to boost existing manufacturing of the vaccines in the United States, Psaki added.

US pharma giants Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are staunchly opposed to the patent waiver for vaccines as it would hit their profits.  But pressure is mounting on these pharma giants to share their Covid vaccine technology.

"COVID-19 has infected over 148 million people and killed over three million globally, with hundreds of thousands of new cases and thousands of deaths being reported daily," the five senators wrote in identical letters to the CEOs of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson on Wednesday. The letter was also released to the press.

Senators Elizabeth Warren, Edward J Markey, Tammy Baldwin, Jeffrey A Merkley, and Christopher Murphy said India is a major producer of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and has exported over 66 million doses globally since January 2021. But in the midst of the recent surge of COVID-19 cases, India is struggling to vaccinate people fast enough to quell the outbreak.

"Though Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and other companies have developed safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the uncontrolled spread of coronavirus poses significant risks to global vaccination efforts: as the virus proliferates, it evolves – increasing the risk of a variant developing that renders vaccinations ineffective," the senators pointed out.

The WHO has also repeatedly highlighted the issue that the poor countries do not have any vaccines amid the surging pandemic.

Influential Indian-American groups are backing the move to waive the patent. US Representative Ro Khanna has also said he is pushing Biden, a fellow Democrat, to persuade pharma giants to agree to a voluntary waiver of intellectual property rights for six months to a year, to help India boost its domestic production of vaccines.

The sudden surge of the pandemic in India has come as a major setback in the global fight against the pandemic as it has been supplying vaccines to over 80 countries. However, with the devastating second Covid-19 wave sweeping the country it has to focus more on the home front and the health infrastructure of the 1.3 billion strong nation has come under strain.

The big pharma lobby has been claiming that waiving the WTO's agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property could reduce the safety of vaccines, and setting up production in new places would leave fewer resources to step up production in existing locations.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai had also discussed the issue on Monday with drugmakers Pfizer and AstraZeneca PLC. She had expressed the view that a solution has to be found to give developing countries a role in addressing critical gaps in vaccine production and distribution, according to a Reuters report.

Tai said the “gaping divide between developed and developing countries” in access to medicines “ was completely unacceptable” and industry needed to make sacrifices in times of crisis.

The pandemic has brought unprecedented death and suffering worldwide and clearly big pharma should rise to the occasion and serve humanity, instead of clinging on to their patents to make money.