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Senators to Biden: Waive vaccine intellectual property rules

FILE - In this Wednesday, April 14, 2021, file photo, President Joe Biden removes his mask to speak at a news conference at the White House, in Washington. Ten liberal senators are urging Biden to back India and South Africas appeal to the World Trade Organization to temporarily relax intellectual property rules so coronavirus vaccines can be manufactured by nations that are struggling to inoculate their population. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool, File) (Andrew Harnik, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – Ten liberal senators are urging President Joe Biden to back India and South Africa’s appeal to the World Trade Organization to temporarily relax intellectual property rules so coronavirus vaccines can be manufactured by nations that are struggling to inoculate their populations.

The lawmakers, in a letter delivered to the White House on Thursday evening, wrote that Biden should “prioritize people over pharmaceutical company profits” and support the temporary waiver of the rules. A waiver could pave the way for generic or other manufacturers to make more vaccines.

The letter was led by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, along with Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Raphael Warnock of Georgia also signed the letter.

“Simply put, we must make vaccines, testing, and treatments accessible everywhere if we are going to crush the virus anywhere,” the lawmakers say in the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

More than 100 nations support a temporary waiver, which could help vaccine manufacturing ramp up in poorer countries that are struggling to acquire vaccine supplies. The Biden administration has said it is studying the issue.

Opponents, including pharmaceutical companies, worry that it would set dangerous precedent in allowing scientists around the globe to copy American and European companies’ research — some of which was funded by the U.S. government — long before patents expire. The Trump administration had opposed calls for the waiver.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the lawmakers' letter.

The lawmakers' appeal to Biden came after a group of 170 former world leaders and Nobel laureates earlier this week sent a similar letter to Biden urging him to support a temporary waiver of the WTO’s intellectual property rules.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 3 million people worldwide, including more than 170,000 in India and more than 50,000 in South Africa, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.