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Washington, D.C. October 26, 2021 – Today, during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Finance, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) highlighted several existing authorities to fight the COVID-19 pandemic which has killed nearly 5 million people worldwide. Currently, less than 1% of COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in low-income countries — prolonging the pandemic globally and at home. During the hearing, Senator Warren called on Biden’s nominees to utilize tools available to the Biden administration such as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), a waiver of exclusive intellectual property protections for vaccines, the Defense Production Act (DPA), and rights granted to the government in its contracts with vaccine manufacturers to fight vaccine inequity worldwide. In response to Senator Warren, each of the nominees agreed to prioritize tools under their respective purviews to expand global access to COVID-19 vaccines and end the pandemic.

Video of Hearing Exchange

Senator Warren has repeatedly called for greater investments in global COVID-19 vaccine access and manufacturing:

  • Last week, Senator Warren joined a bipartisan group of senators in calling on President Biden to strengthen U.S. leadership on global vaccinations and efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Earlier this month, Senators Warren and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore), and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) led their colleagues in urging the Biden administration to review the Moderna-HHS contract and expand global COVID-19 vaccine access.
  • Last month, Senators Warren, Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and their colleagues urged the Biden administration to ramp up vaccine production in low- and middle-income countries. 
  • In July, Senator Warren, Congresswoman Jayapal, and their colleagues called on Congress to provide $34 billion for global vaccine manufacturing in the reconciliation package. Senator Warren also called on Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson to expand global vaccine access. 
  • In May 2021, Senator Warren pressed Ambassador Tai that the U.S. should be doing everything it can to help other countries ramp up testing, treatment, and PPE production, and Ambassador Tai agreed.
  • Senator Warren, Senator Merkley, and Congresswoman Jayapal also introduced the Nullifying Opportunities for Variants to Infect and Decimate (NOVID) Act to rapidly scale up the production of vaccines. 
  • Senator Warren successfully pushed the Biden administration to support a temporary waiver of some Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules.

Transcript: Senate Finance Committee Hearing on Nominations 
U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Tuesday, October 26, 2021 

Senator Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Nearly 5 million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide. And although over 6 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have now been administered globally, less than one percent of them had been–  have been administered in low-income countries.

This inequity is disgraceful, and it also prolongs the pandemic’s consequences here in the United States.

The Biden administration has shown real global leadership in responding to the pandemic, but we must continue to use every tool available in the fight against COVID worldwide. And I’d like to discuss some of those tools today.

Mr. Neiman, let me start with you. The first tool would fall under your purview. In August, the IMF approved a historic $650 billion in global financial assistance in the form of Special Drawing Rights. These SDRs are a lifeline for developing countries as they continue to struggle with the fallout from the pandemic. 

Mr. Neiman, do you agree that SDRs are a critical tool for combating the COVID crisis, both globally and at home?

Mr. Neiman: Thank you for the question, Senator. The increased SDR allocation to lower-income countries represented a very meaningful increase in their reserves, and therefore, helped countries that otherwise might have been liquidity constrained in their vaccination efforts and their ongoing preparedness for public health investments that are much needed.

Senator Warren: Good. So I take it that’s a strong yes? 

Mr. Neiman: That’s a strong yes. 

Senator Warren: Good. I appreciate it, and I agree. The $650 billion that the Biden administration helped secure is a good first step, but the IMF has made clear that the total need is somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.5 trillion. The House has authorized additional SDRs to meet this urgent need. It’s time for the Senate to do the same.

Of course, to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, we also need enough vaccines, PPE, tests, treatments for everyone. And this brings us to tool number two. I was glad to see the Biden administration put people’s lives over pharma profits by supporting a waiver of international intellectual property rules to help ramp up global vaccine production in a crisis. But almost two years into this pandemic, countries still haven’t reached a deal to get it done.

So Ms. Pagán and Mr. Wilson, if confirmed, you would both have key roles to play in securing this critical tool for global vaccine access. So let me just ask each of you. Will you commit to making this a priority and using American leadership to secure a TRIPS waiver as soon as possible? Ms. Pagán?

Ms. Pagán: Senator Warren, thank you for the question. As you know, we have been working in the WTO to– since Ambassador Tai’s announcement that we support a waiver of intellectual property protections for vaccines.

Senator Warren: I just want to hear a yes that you’re committed to this, and you’re going to make it a priority.

Ms. Pagán: We have been working, and we’ll continue to work on securing a successful outcome.

Senator Warren: Good. Thank you. And Mr. Wilson, can I hear a yes from you?

Mr. Wilson: Yes, you can. Ambassador Tai spoke to this issue of U.S. leadership in Geneva a week ago– two weeks ago. Her answer was yes, and so is mine.

Senator Warren: Good. So I like these yes’. Yes’ backed up by I’m already working on it. Best kind. This is really important, and I appreciate your commitments here.

So while the U.S. works with partners to approve a TRIPS waiver, we still have other tools to accelerate the COVID vaccine manufacturing and distribution, without depending on international agreement. And that brings me to the third tool in the box.

Mr. Bagenstos, if confirmed, will you commit to conducting a thorough examination of all of the regulatory authorities at the Department’s disposal – including the DPA and any contractual rights in which HHS is entitled – to dramatically expand global access to COVID vaccines, including through vaccine technology transfer?

Mr. Bagenstos: Absolutely, Senator. As both the President and the Secretary have made clear, we need to do what we can to get out of this crisis and that means considering all of the available legal tools. Obviously running them through the appropriate processes to make sure we have the authority, but I think we have to leave no stone unturned in looking for those authorities.

Senator Warren: Good. I very much like that approach. We’ve got to use all of the tools. We are in a crisis, and it puts everyone at risk around the world. It puts us at risk here at home. You know, this is a global emergency, and we must use all of our tools to fight this virus. The pandemic will not end anywhere until it ends everywhere. And now is the time for using all our tools.

So thank you all. I look forward to your speedy confirmation and getting you even more tools to work with. Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.