Sen. Bernie Sanders says US drug companies should relinquish intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines because 'millions of lives are at stake around the world'

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders repeated calls for pharmaceutical companies to relinquish intellectual property rights to COVID-19 vaccines.
  • If companies like Pfizer and Moderna relinquished IP rights, their vaccines could be produced globally. 
  • But the companies have opposed these calls, claiming risks to vaccine safety.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday called for drug companies to waive intellectual property rights to their COVID-19 vaccines so that the inoculations can be produced by various countries in an effort to slow the spread of the deadly disease in hard-hit nations, like India.

“We have got to obviously make sure that every American gets vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Sanders said during an appearance on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.” “But not only do we have a moral responsibility to help the rest of the world, it’s in our own self-interest. If this pandemic continues to spread in other countries, it’s going to come back and bite us at one point or another.” 

Sanders, an Independent, also weighed in on the debate over whether US pharmaceutical companies should relinquish their intellectual property rights to allow other companies across the world to produce vaccines.

“The second thing we should do is not only make sure that excess vaccines in the United States get around to countries that need it. We should deal with this issue through the World Trade Organization.

“And I think what we have got to say right now to the drug companies — when millions of lives are at stake around the world — yes, allow other countries to have these intellectual property rights so they can produce the vaccines that are desperately needed in poor countries,” he said. 

Sanders and nine other Senate Democrats urged President Joe Biden last week to put his support behind a temporary patent waiver that would allow vaccines to be produced locally by other manufacturers, Reuters reported.

Pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, and the US Chamber of Commerce have opposed such calls.

They argue that allowing other manufacturers to produce their vaccines could lead to issues with safety. More than 80 WHO members have backed a proposal by India and South Africa to temporarily wave the IP rights of the companies. The issue will be discussed by the WTO this month, according to Reuters.

The Biden administration last week said it would send supplies to India so it could ramp up more vaccines as it deals with its ongoing surge.

“There is something morally objectionable about rich countries being able to get their vaccines, yet millions and billions in poor countries are unable to afford it,” Sanders said Sunday.

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