A nurse prepares a coronavirus vaccine dose.

A nurse prepares a vaccine dose on March 25, 2021 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

1,000+ Doctors, Nurses to Biden: Use 'Full Power' to Boost Global Vaccine Access

"Failure to address the global need for vaccines and treatments is prolonging the pandemic everywhere."

More than 1,000 doctors, nurses, and medical students from across the United States demanded Tuesday that President Joe Biden harness the "full power" of his office to bolster global coronavirus vaccination efforts, which have been marred by deeply unequal distribution of the lifesaving shots.

"The United States must help expand global vaccine, diagnostic, and treatment production immediately."

In a letter to Biden, the medical professionals and students wrote that two years into the deadly global pandemic, "still only a very small fraction of the populations of low-income countries have received any dose of a Covid vaccine."

Just 10.6% of people in low-income countries have gotten at least one coronavirus dose, according to Our World in Data.

"This scarcity is not only unjust and guarantees continued death and economic suffering abroad--it is also directly responsible for the rise of Covid variants that have undermined so much of our domestic progress against the coronavirus," reads the new letter, which was coordinated by the Trade Justice Education Fund. "Failure to address the global need for vaccines and treatments is prolonging the pandemic everywhere."

Specifically, the letter's signatories called on Biden to:

  • Actively cooperate with South Africa, India, and other nations to secure a comprehensive and effective emergency waiver of global intellectual property rules so that countries can start producing Covid vaccines, test kits, and treatments themselves without waiting around any longer for the permission of pharmaceutical monopolies;
  • Leverage the U.S. government's massive investment in vaccine development, as well as all its existing legal authorities, to force vaccine firms to share their vaccine-making know-how with the many qualified and capable producers around the world; and
  • Launch and help fund a global manufacturing plan to support the development of vaccine production hubs around the world.

"The Covid pandemic knows no boundaries yet, to date, global vaccine equity has been tragically poor," said letter signatories Monica Gandhi, a professor and director of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), and Baleem Ghali, assistant professor of hospital medicine and critical care at UCSF.

"We stand in solidarity with our colleagues worldwide who have had limited access to tools to fight the pandemic," they added. "We should be pursuing all avenues to ensure equitable access to Covid vaccines and therapeutics, including expanding manufacturing, waiving of patents, and donations."

While Biden endorsed South Africa and India's proposed patent waiver back in May, recently published documents indicate that his administration has taken a passive approach to negotiations at the World Trade Organization (WTO), doing little to pressure the United Kingdom, Germany, and other European allies to stop obstructing the measure.

WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has called on member nations to reach an agreement on a patent waiver by the end of February, but talks over the proposal remain stagnant.

One unnamed senior trade negotiator told the India-based business publication Moneycontrol last week that wealthy European countries opposing the waiver have been "emboldened by the noncommittal position of the United States, which has continued to drag its feet on the issue."

In the face of pressure from advocacy groups and public health experts, Biden has also pledged to do more to ensure that low-income countries have adequate access to coronavirus vaccines.

But critics argue that Biden's existing plans--which rely heavily on charitable donations--are nowhere near ambitious enough to bring coronavirus vaccine production into line with global needs. According to one recent analysis, the world needs an estimated 22 billion additional mRNA vaccine doses to provide low-income countries with enough shots and prevent the emergence of new variants.

A separate paper published last week estimated that providing three mRNA-based vaccine doses to every person in low- and lower-middle-income countries would prevent over 1.5 million Covid-19 deaths for the cost of just $61 billion.

"To save millions of lives and restore any semblance of normalcy, the United States must help expand global vaccine, diagnostic, and treatment production immediately," the medical professionals and students wrote in their letter Tuesday. "Pharmaceutical monopolies cannot be permitted to stand in the way of your goal of vaccinating at least 70% of humanity by the end of 2022."

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