GOP senator urges Biden to withdraw support for COVID vaccine patent waiver

GOP opposition is building to the Biden administration’s move to support waiving World Trade Organization patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines.

Ahead of a Wednesday Senate Finance Committee hearing with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) sent a letter to Tai and President Biden, urging the administration to withdraw its support.

“Waiving IP protections under this proposal runs counter to long standing American values and will not enable faster vaccination globally,” the senator wrote.

He also expressed concern that countries like China and Russia would take the protected data and undermine the market for U.S. vaccine manufacturing.

“Moreover, proceeding as your administration has proposed provides for a technological windfall for adversaries such as China and Russia by giving away IP that has taken years of hard work and ingenuity by American scientists, not to mention billions in American investment, to perfect,” Daines wrote.

Tai last week said she will pursue “text-based negotiations” on the WTO waiver, but acknowledged that they “will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.”

Daines joins other congressional Republicans in the House and Senate in denouncing the move, which was largely supported by Democrats.

During a Senate Health Committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said the waiver was an attack against innovators, who had helped the country immensely to make lifesaving medical products.

“Intellectual property protections are part of the reason we have these life-saving products. If these protections are not in place for innovators of life-saving medicines, we will not have them for the next pandemic. It’s that simple,” said Burr, the top ranking Republican on the committee.

“There is a way to support the manufacturing for vaccines globally and to help countries in need without acting in bad faith against innovators who stepped up when the world needed them most,” Burr added.

Biden had been under mounting pressure from lawmakers in his own party to back the waiver: 110 House Democrats wrote to the president prior to the announcement, urging him to support the waiver.

The argument centers on temporarily lifting patents and other intellectual property protections to help expand the production and deployment of vaccines during supply shortages.

The debate has exploded in the U.S., as dire scenes in countries like India contrast with rosy domestic predictions and millions of Americans getting vaccinated daily.

Lower-income countries are struggling to acquire and manufacture the lifesaving vaccines, as wealthy countries stockpile doses.