300 International Public Health Experts Call on President Biden to Support Global Vaccine Equity

Dear President Biden:

We are public health faculty, administrators, students and practitioners moved to action by the urgent need for the United States to support the temporary waiver of some Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules proposed by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organization (WTO) during the COVID-19 emergency. Despite widespread support for its adoption, the Trump Administration led opposition to the waiver and, with a handful of other WTO signatories, blocked its adoption. We urge you to reverse this stance by supporting the swift adoption of the temporary waiver and helping ensure all countries achieve access to sufficient vaccines to end the global pandemic and restart the global economy.

The TRIPS waiver proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020 would temporarily lift certain intellectual property barriers and permit countries to manufacture locally COVID-19 diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines. Allowing countries to manufacture locally will speed access to vaccines and treatment, prevent unnecessary deaths, and facilitate a stronger, faster economic recovery. As public health experts, we know this waiver is vital to ensuring sufficient volume of and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics around the world, which is why the waiver is supported by more than 100 nations. The TRIPS waiver is also essential to ensure all global economies, including the United States’ economy, can recover from the pandemic and thrive. Until vaccines, testing, and treatments are accessible to everyone everywhere we risk recurring new variants, drug resistance, and greater loss of life and suffering at home and globally.

Regardless of our vaccination efforts here in the U.S., we cannot successfully combat COVID-19 without supporting the efforts of other countries in our collective fight against this virus. Unless countries cooperate and share medical technology to speed production, there simply will not be sufficient supply of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for many countries — particularly developing countries — to manage COVID-19. Many countries may not have access to widespread COVID-19 vaccination until as late as 2024.

Supporting the TRIPS waiver will help us all by providing a pathway for all countries to undertake mass vaccination campaigns simultaneously. This cannot be achieved through the current flexibilities included in TRIPS, which would require each WTO member country to negotiate compulsory licenses for each patent or other protection applying to each individual product. Instead we have seen countries worldwide in competition for limited supplies, driving monopoly prices that further reduce access for lower and middle income countries, as we have seen with reports of South Africa paying more than double the price paid by the European Union for the AstraZeneca vaccine. As we learned with HIV, keeping people alive must be prioritized over patent protection.

The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative or other initiatives to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are insufficient. Even if COVAX could obtain its target of 2 billion vaccines does by the end of 2021, that amount would cover doses for just 20 percent of the populations of all participating countries and would not include treatments and testing supplies.

This temporary, targeted TRIPS waiver is essential to eliminating restrictions that currently prevent countries from manufacturing COVID-19 treatments, vaccines, and testing supplies. It would allow countries and manufacturers to directly access and share technologies to produce vaccines and therapeutics without causing trade sanctions or international disputes.

Your Administration has the opportunity to reverse the damage done by the Trump Administration to the United States’ global reputation and restore its reputation as a public health leader on the world stage. To bring the pandemic to its quickest end and save the lives of Americans and people around the world, we ask that you prioritize people over pharmaceutical company profits by reversing the Trump position and announcing U.S. support for the WTO TRIPS waiver.

Sincerely,

Terry McGovern, JD, Professor and Chair, Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health; Director, Global Health Justice and Governance Program, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Chelsea Clinton, DPhil, MPH, Global Health Justice and Governance Program Cooperating Faculty; Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Oxiris Barbot, MD, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Heilbrunn Department of Population and Family Health, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University; Former Commissioner, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH, Dean, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health

Kandi White, MS, Native Energy & Climate Campaign Coordinator, Indigenous Environmental Network

Geeta Misra, MA, MIA, Executive Director, CREA

Sibongile Ndashe, Executive Director, Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa

See the full list of signatories here.

Harriet and Robert H. Heilbrunn Professor and Chair, Population and Family Health at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health