Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky led 45 of her colleagues in demanding in a letter to President Donald Trump Thursday that any vaccine developed by the federal government for the coronavirus strain that broke out in December in China be kept "accessible and affordable" and not used as a source of profit for Big Pharma.
"Because of the millions YOU have invested into federal coronavirus research, a vaccine could be in initial clinical trials within 3 months," tweeted Schakowsky. "We cannot allow #BigPharma to price gouge the fruits of Americans' investments."
Today I led 45 of my colleagues to demand that @realDonaldTrump ensures any #coronavirus vaccine or treatment developed with U.S. taxpayer $ is accessible & affordable. That goal can’t be met if #BigPharma sets prices & determines distribution, putting profits over public health. pic.twitter.com/LO0rcrUk0I— Jan Schakowsky (@janschakowsky) February 20, 2020
In their letter, Schakowsky and her colleagues express their concerns over licensing of the vaccine to pharmaceutical companies, a move that could jeopardize access to the potentially life-saving treatment.
"We urge the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) not to provide an exclusive license to any private manufacturer for a coronavirus vaccine or treatment in any government grants, contracts, or licensing arrangements," the members say in the letter.
"Providing exclusive monopoly rights could result in an expensive medicine that is inaccessible, wasting public resources and putting public health at risk in the United States and around the globe," the letter continues. "If HHS or any other federal agency moves forward with such a proposal, we urge you to instead issue a limited license and implement requirements that a vaccine or treatment be made available at an affordable price."
As Common Dreams reported on February 13, the potential for a worldwide pandemic has countries around the world working together to contain the outbreak. While the rate of infection has slowed, cases worldwide jumped by around 15,000 in the last week to roughly 75,000—mostly concentrated in mainland China.
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Progressives applauded the letter.
"Coronavirus vaccines and treatments must be made available to all—not used by #BigPharma as yet another opportunity to profit at patients' expense," said advocacy group Social Security Works.
In a tweet, Congressional pressure group Indivisible said the organization was "proud" to stand alongside Schakowsky and her colleagues.
"Medicines, like the coronavirus vaccine, that are developed with public money should benefit public health, not create private profit for Big Pharma," the group said.
Trade union the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees praised the 46 lawmaker signatories for making a point to ask about the role of public investment in the vaccine's development.
"Why should the federal government give monopoly rights to the drug corporations for the coronavirus vaccine currently being developed with taxpayer dollars?" the union tweeted. "Glad some folks in Congress are asking that question."