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U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said Tuesday that the World Trade Organization’s decision to postpone its biannual Ministerial Conference due to the Omicron variant is no excuse to further delay approval of a temporary waiver for coronavirus vaccine patents, which are constraining the global supply of lifesaving shots.
“Our vaccination efforts will only be successful if vaccination efforts in the developing world happen simultaneously.”
Sanders noted that it’s been nearly a year since the U.S. kicked off its vaccination campaign, which has gotten shots into the arms of 70% of the country’s population. But the Vermont senator noted that as many wealthy nations have achieved widespread inoculation, “too many of our neighbors around the world still are blocked” from vaccine access.
“The time for debate by the members of the World Trade Organization is over,” Sanders said in a statement. “As we face the potential threat of a new coronavirus variant, we must move even more urgently to dismantle the vaccine inequality that undermines our ability to confront this crisis. We cannot postpone or delay. It’s time for the WTO and our world leaders to step up, to finally put people over profits and make the vaccine technologies available to all, regardless of wealth.”
More than a year has passed—and millions of people have died of Covid-19—since India and South Africa first proposed a temporary suspension of coronavirus vaccine-related intellectual property (IP) protections, which are preventing manufacturers around the world from producing generic versions of existing vaccines.
One South African company is currently attempting to replicate Moderna’s mRNA shot, but the U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant’s refusal to share its formula—developed with the help of U.S. government scientists and public funding—is hindering the process.
“Let us be clear: to deny lifesaving healthcare anytime, but particularly during a global health crisis, is unacceptable,” said Sanders, who first voiced support for the IP waiver in April. “Our vaccination efforts will only be successful if vaccination efforts in the developing world happen simultaneously. This waiver would not only save lives, but protect against new variants that threaten the progress we have made. This is exactly the kind of leadership the world needs right now. We must work together to get this done.”