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Sen. Sanders, other lawmakers join groups delivering 2 million petitions to persuade Biden to reverse blockage of COVID-19 WTO waiver

Organizations are urging U.S. to join 100 nations supporting waiver at May WTO General Council meeting

Photo: Province of British Columbia / via Flickr CC

WHAT: Zoom press conference ahead of the May 5 meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), other U.S. Senators and U.S. House members, and more than a dozen health, development, labor organizations. The press conference announces the delivery of two million petitions to President Biden asking him to support WTO TRIPS waiver so that greater supplies of vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests can be produced in as many countries as possible, as quickly as possible, to end the global pandemic. The petition delivery will kick off an international week of action in support of the waiver.


  • U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
  • U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)
  • U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)
  • U.S. Rep. Chuy García (D-Ill.)
  • [Additional Senators and Representatives being confirmed]
  • Sara Nelson, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, President
  • Abby Maxman, Oxfam America, President
  • Pauline Muchina PhD., American Friends Service Committee, Public Education & Advocacy Coordinator (PEAC) for the Africa region
  • Tulika Singh MPH, Right to Health Action, PhD Candidate in Virology & Vaccinology
  • Lori Wallach, Public Citizen, Director of Global Trade Watch (Moderator)  

WHEN: Friday, April 23 at 11:30 a.m. E.T.

HOW: Press can register here.

BACKGROUND: On May 5, the WTO General Council will again consider the temporary emergency COVID-19 waiver supported by 100-plus nations but blocked by the Trump administration. While the Biden administration has made impressive gains in vaccinating people in the U.S., it has not reversed Trump’s opposition to global cooperation in increasing the production of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests. This is necessary to obtain global herd immunity and avoid variants from developing in other countries with raging outbreaks that could throw the U.S. back on lockdown.

The two million petition signatures will add to a deluge of support for the waiver, including from 60% of U.S. voters, 10 U.S. senators, 170-plus former heads of state and Nobel laureates, 400-plus U.S. civil society organizations, and 250 international organizations.

The U.S. and a handful of other WTO members are blocking the waiver. They will not even agree to negotiate about waiver language to address whatever concerns they may have with the current text. The WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) requires countries to provide lengthy monopoly protections for medicines, tests and technologies used to produce them. While there is potential production capacity in every region of the world, WTO rules block timely, unfettered access to the technology needed to boost manufacturing. potential. Unless much greater volumes are made, many people in developing nations may not get COVID-19 vaccines until 2024.

Many COVID-19 vaccine originators have effectively blocked production by refusing licensing requests from qualified manufacturers in developing countries where sales will be less profitable. As a result, global production likely will fall well short of the 10-15 billion vaccines needed in 2021 to confer global herd immunity. Existing WTO 2001 “flexibilities” that resulted from a waiver push for HIV-AIDS treatments are not workable in the COVID-19 context, including because pharmaceutical firms added layers of additional copyright, industrial design and other exclusivities to the patent protections for which the WTO allows compulsory licensing.


The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.



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