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Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) participates in a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on June 16, 2021. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) participates in a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on June 16, 2021. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Congressional Progressive Caucus Urges Merkel to Support Vaccine Patent Waiver

"As long as Germany withholds its approval of the TRIPS waiver," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, "it threatens the lives of millions of people around the world and our ability to crush the virus."

Kenny Stancil

As U.S. President Joe Biden prepared to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Thursday's White House summit to discuss "ending the Covid-19 pandemic," the Congressional Progressive Caucus urged Merkel to end Germany's obstruction of a proposed patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines, which public health advocates say would make possible the increased global production of lifesaving shots.

"After watching my family in India fight to survive the latest surge there, I feel personally how vital it is that the U.S. must do everything we can to ensure that no one else has to suffer from an artificial vaccine shortage in the fight against this virus."
—Rep. Pramila Jayapal

"Chancellor Merkel arrives in Washington, D.C. as the Delta variant is surging around the world and wealthier countries have administered 80% of vaccine doses, while low-income countries have been left with just 0.4% of them," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement.

"We hope that when President Biden meets with her Thursday, he will press the chancellor on why Germany is standing in the way of more than 130 nations accessing Covid-19 vaccines through an emergency waiver from the World Trade Organization," added Jayapal.

Oxfam estimated last month that at the current pace, it would take impoverished countries throughout the Global South until nearly 2080 to fully inoculate their populations, a manifestation of health injustice that progressives around the world have dubbed "vaccine apartheid."

The pandemic's official global death toll, meanwhile, surpassed four million last week, including close to three million since October, when India and South Africa first introduced the popular motion to suspend the WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement for the duration of the pandemic.

Although Biden received praise for endorsing the TRIPS waiver in May following months of U.S. opposition, he has done little since then to publicly pressure Washington's allies to follow suit, prompting criticism from advocacy groups and experts.

A handful of countries—led by Germany and several other rich members of the European Union—continues to side with Big Pharma by resisting calls to drop patent protections for Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. Because the WTO operates by consensus, the intransigence of just one nation is enough to thwart the will of the vast majority.

"Our caucus," said Jayapal, "has prioritized global vaccine equity since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, and along with [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat] supported the Biden administration's efforts to ensure quick and equitable global vaccine production and treatment access."

For months, hundreds of civil society groupsprogressive U.S. lawmakersNobel laureates, and medical ethicists have made the case that ending the pandemic requires suspending coronavirus-related intellectual property barriers. Pharmaceutical corporations' monopolistic control over publicly funded knowledge and technology, progressives argue, is currently inhibiting the mass production of generic vaccines as well as diagnostic and therapeutic tools, resulting in an artificially low supply and inequitable allocation of doses that epidemiologists have warned will prolong suffering worldwide.

"As long as Germany withholds its approval of the TRIPS waiver," Jayapal noted, "it threatens the lives of millions of people around the world and our ability to crush the virus."

Jayapal's comments came amid a weeklong pressure campaign organized by a coalition of global justice groups. From floating banners calling for universal vaccine access and staging a "die-in" protest in front of the White House, to marching through New York City prior to blockading the street in front of Pfizer's headquarters, along with many other direct actions, activists around the country implored Merkel before and during her visit to support the TRIPS waiver to facilitate greater worldwide manufacturing of sorely needed doses.

During an online panel on vaccine equity convened by Public Citizen, health policy experts and social justice advocates argued Wednesday that if Biden cannot persuade Merkel to drop Germany's opposition to the TRIPS waiver, Thursday's summit between the two elected officials "will be an epic moral failure," as Father Charlie Chilufya, director of Justice and Ecology at the Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar, put it.

Jayapal, for her part, stressed that "the pandemic isn't over until it's over everywhere."

"After watching my family in India fight to survive the latest surge there, I feel personally how vital it is that the U.S. must do everything we can to ensure that no one else has to suffer from an artificial vaccine shortage in the fight against this virus—both in pushing to ensure the TRIPS waiver is implemented, and by investing $35 billion into America's production of vaccines that can quickly assist countries around the world in getting vaccinated," she said.

"President Biden has been clear and strategic in rebuilding America's relationships with world leaders, and once again ensuring that the United States reestablishes our leadership on the world stage," Jayapal added. "We hope that during this visit, the president will apply his diplomatic and leadership skills to ensuring Germany supports the TRIPS waiver so that we can all engage in the lifesaving work of fighting this global pandemic."


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