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NEWS: Sanders, Doggett, Schakowsky and 9 Colleagues Send Bicameral Letter to Biden Calling for Equitable Access Standards as WHO Seeks to Address Future Pandemics

WASHINGTON, March 19 – As the United States participates this week in negotiations at the World Health Organization (WHO) to establish the Pandemic Accord, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Committee Subcommittee on Health, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Innovation, Data, and Commerce, along with nine of their colleagues, today called on President Biden to champion strong, binding, equitable access standards for new tests, treatments, and vaccines in the international agreement.

Sanders, Doggett, and Schakowsky were joined on the bicameral letter by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), as well as Reps. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

“We must act on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote the members. “Nearly 15 million people died during the first two years of the pandemic. Most tragically, millions of people died needlessly after the vaccines were developed, but before they became widely available in low-and-middle income countries. Major manufacturers chose not to share the vaccine recipe to expand global production. As a result, it took over a year after the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were first authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for enough doses to reach developing countries—if they could afford them at all.”

Vaccine inequity hurt the American people as well. According to one study by Yale researchers, by the time the U.S. recorded one million deaths, over 40% of those deaths were caused by three COVID-19 variants first detected outside of the U.S.

In the letter, the members urged President Biden to push for the inclusion of three commitments in the WHO’s Pandemic Accord: a “fair pricing” requirement for drugs developed for public health emergencies; a technology sharing standard to help expand production of tests, treatments, and vaccines during shortages; and a commitment to support countries that take steps to increase access to pandemic products.

The members wrote: “The Pandemic Accord negotiations at the WHO present an historic opportunity to prepare for future pandemics, to protect lives and livelihoods, and to demonstrate political leadership the world will long remember...A fairer, more equitable response to the next public health outbreak is in everyone’s interest. By supporting strong, binding equitable access standards, you can help make sure the next pandemic is shorter and less deadly than the last.”

First initiated in December 2021, negotiations over the Pandemic Accord – an international agreement under the WHO constitution aimed at strengthening pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response – are targeted to conclude May 2024.

Founded in 1948, the WHO is an agency of the United Nations dedicated to act as a coordinating authority on international health issues, including global public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Historically, the U.S. has acted as one of the largest funders of the WHO, providing hundreds of millions of dollars annually over the last decade. While the Trump Administration suspended U.S. support for the WHO in 2020 and initiated a withdrawal of U.S. membership, President Biden reversed this effort upon taking office. The U.S. remains a WHO member state today.

Read the full letter, here.