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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) responded to news about the Biden administration’s endorsement of plans to waive the patents for coronavirus vaccines by tweeting out another proposal: Do the same thing for insulin.
Officials in the Biden administration expressed support Wednesday for waiving COVID-19 vaccine patents in order to help other countries around the world (particularly those that might not be able to buy doses in bulk at higher costs) develop their own vaccines, which could help control the spread of the virus and prevent the occurrence of new variants.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” said U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai in a statement. “The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines.”
Within hours of the announcement, stock shares for companies that have produced vaccines for the virus went down. Ocasio-Cortez shared an image showing the stock drops, and tweeted a message of her own: “Let’s do insulin next.”
Ocasio-Cortez also retweeted a message from Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and health economist, who endorsed the idea of making insulin more affordable through ending patents on the drug.
“There is no reason for insulin to cost $21 in Canada for a 10 ml bottle, while it costs a mortgage payment in the US,” Feigl-Ding added.
Currently, newer versions of insulin retail for around $175 to $300 per vial, according to a recent report from Forbes. Most diabetes patients require around two to three vials per month, with some patients requiring more depending on their health needs.
For individuals with lower incomes and those who pay out of pocket, the price of insulin is incredibly burdensome, and often results in patients making difficult choices that can be harmful to their health, including rationing their dosages in order to make their supplies of the drug last longer.
A 2019 study found that one in four diabetes patients “reported cost-related insulin underuse” that resulted in “poor glycemic control.” One-third of those who had difficulties affording the medicine did not discuss the issue with their doctors.
Medical experts are well aware of what’s driven up insulin costs over the years. While the original patent for the drug sold for just $1 almost 100 years ago, drug companies have made incremental improvements on the drug since the 1920s, and current law allows them to keep patents on insulin as it changes — and prevent a generic version from becoming available.
Companies do not continue to manufacture older versions of the drug, as their use is deemed obsolete by doctors who prefer to use the new and more effective versions that are available.