Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a press conference

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) speaks at a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

To Avoid Covid Inequities in Next Pandemic, Sanders Says WHO Treaty Must Put 'Health Over Profits'

"The life of a millionaire in New York City is not worth more than the life of a person living in extreme poverty in South Sudan."

As advocates warn of glaring inadequacies in a draft of the global pandemic treaty under negotiation at the World Health Organization, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday urged the country's lead negotiator "to push for the inclusion of strong reasonable pricing, technology sharing, and access standards" in the agreement.

"Now is the time to negotiate strong global standards that put public health over profits," Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote in a letter to Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto, U.S. negotiator for the pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response accord, a proposed treaty that 194 WHO member states agreed to draft in response to the Covid-19 emergency.

The WHO's Intergovernmental Negotiating Body is meeting from Monday through Thursday in Geneva to debate the latest draft of the proposed accord.

"The U.S. should champion including reasonable pricing and technology sharing requirements into all funding agreements with pharmaceutical companies," asserted Sanders, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. "That is not just the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do to protect the American people from viruses that respect no borders."

Sanders' office said in a statement:

During the Covid-19 pandemic, there were vast inequities in access to... tests, treatments, and vaccines. One study estimated that vaccine inequality cost 1.3 million lives by the end of 2021. U.S. taxpayers spent $12 billion on the research, development, and procurement of one of the leading vaccines. Yet, Moderna refused to share its technology with other manufacturers to increase global production, charged some poorer countries more for doses than wealthy countries, and then quadrupled the price of the Covid vaccine to $128—at a time when it costs just $2.85 to manufacture that vaccine.

"The mistakes made with Moderna cannot be repeated," Sanders wrote in his letter. "A public health crisis should not be an opportunity for profiteering. We need real international cooperation and commitment to ensuring equitable access to pandemic products."

"Our goal should be to make tests, treatments, and vaccines for the next public health outbreak available to every man, woman, and child who needs them as soon as possible," he added. "The life of a millionaire in New York City is not worth more than the life of a person living in extreme poverty in South Sudan."

The proposed treaty—a final draft of which is meant to be submitted for consideration by the 77th World Health Assembly in May 2024—aims to build resilience to pandemics; ensure equitable access to pandemic countermeasures; support global coordination through a stronger and more accountable WHO; and support prevention, detection, and responses to outbreaks with pandemic potential.

"The new accord could represent a global commitment to work together, as an international community, to help prevent disease outbreaks from impacting individuals, communities, countries, and the world in the same way as the Covid-19 pandemic did," the WHO explained.

However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned Tuesday that "the current draft fails to enshrine core human rights standards protected under international law, most notably the right to health and the right to benefit from scientific progress, therefore risking a repeat of the tragic failures during the Covid-19 pandemic."

HRW's position is shared by the Global Initiative for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; the International Commission of Jurists; and Amnesty International.

"Creating a new pandemic treaty could offer an opportunity to ensure that countries are equipped with proper mechanisms for cooperation and principles to prevent the level of devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the rights violations resulting from government responses," Amnesty legal adviser Tamaryn Nelson said in a statement.

"By failing to ground the treaty in existing human rights obligations and inadequately addressing human rights concerns arising during public health emergencies, governments risk repeating history when the next global health crisis hits," Nelson added.

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