Calling global vaccine inequality “morally objectionable,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said Sunday the U.S. must do its part to ensure the sharing of Covid-19 vaccine technology.
“Not only do we have a moral responsibility to help the rest of the world, it’s in our own self interest because if this pandemic continues to spread in other countries, it’s going to come back and bite us at one point or another,” the Vermont Independent said in an interview on NBC‘s “Meet the Press.”
In addition to the nation sharing its surplus vaccine doses, Sanders said the U.S. must take action at the World Trade Organization (WTO) regarding pharmaceutical companies’ intellectual property rights on pandemic-related technology.
South Africa and virus-ravaged India are leading a widely backed proposal at the WTO for a temporary suspension of intellectual property rules to enable a boost in global manufacturing of vaccines. Wealthy nations including the U.S. have thus far opposed the proposed TRIPS waiver, though the Biden administration, the Washington Post reported FRiday, is now considering backing it.
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“I think what we have got to say right now to the drug companies, when millions of lives are at stake around the world is… yes, allow other countries to have these intellectual property rights so that they can produce the vaccines that are desperately needed in poor countries,” he said. “There is something morally objectionable about rich countries being able to get that vaccine and yet millions and billions of people in poor countries are unable to afford it.”
Sanders also said in the interview that the country needs “progressive taxation” to address massive economic inequality. He also reiterated his call for a broadening of Medicare coverage to include dental, vision, and hearing aids.
The Vermont senator has previously backed the intellectual property waiver proposal. At a virtual event last month hosted by Public Citizen and joined by public health advocates, he said, “Ending this pandemic requires collaboration, solidarity, and empathy. It requires a different mindset… the mindset that tells the pharmaceutical industry that saving perhaps millions of lives is more important than protecting their already excessive profits.”
“To me,” said Sanders, “this is not a huge debate, this is common human morality.”