As the World Health Organization (WHO) members convene to forge a blueprint for future pandemic preparedness, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has made a clarion call for the incorporation of robust equitable access and fair pricing into the international framework. Sanders, wielding his influence as Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, penned a compelling message to the U.S. lead negotiator, Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto, highlighting the urgency of placing public health interests above profit margins in the drafting of the Pandemic Accord.
In his communiqué, Sanders underscored the imperative of instituting “reasonable pricing and technology sharing” stipulations, reflecting a steadfast commitment to countering the glaring disparities observed during the COVID-19 pandemic. His communication comes at a critical juncture as the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body of the WHO intensifies its discourse on the latest draft of the proposed treaty in Geneva.
A precedent of disparity: COVID-19’s cautionary tale
The senator’s correspondence draws attention to the stark inequities witnessed in the distribution of vaccines and treatments during the recent global health crisis. A staggering statistic was presented, with vaccine inequality being implicated in the loss of 1.3 million lives by the end of 2021. The account of taxpayer-funded vaccine development, with a leading vaccine sponsored to the tune of $12 billion, was juxtaposed against Moderna’s refusal to share its technology and the subsequent quadrupling of its vaccine price.
Sanders reiterated, “The mistakes made with Moderna cannot be repeated.” He hailed the Biden administration’s recent move to demand reasonable pricing from Regeneron for its monoclonal antibody as a positive stride, prompting further measures to prevent pharmaceutical giants from imposing exorbitant charges on taxpayer-funded health products.
Toward a treaty of equitability and preparedness
The proposed Pandemic Accord aims to fortify global resilience to future pandemics, enhance equitable access to countermeasures, and invigorate global coordination under a more robust WHO framework. The treaty, expected to be presented to the 77th World Health Assembly in May 2024, is envisaged as a collective international commitment to prevent the kind of widespread upheaval inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite these objectives, human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), have voiced concerns. The prevailing draft is criticized for its omission of fundamental human rights standards and the right to health, sparking fears of a repeat of the tragic shortcomings experienced during the COVID-19 response.
An urgent appeal for human-centric policies
Sanders’ passionate appeal places the value of human life at the heart of pandemic response, asserting that equitable access to medical advancements is not a matter of charity, but a fundamental human right. His evocative reminder that “The life of a millionaire in New York City is not worth more than the life of a person living in extreme poverty in South Sudan,” resonates as a rallying cry for action that transcends economic divisions.
As negotiations progress, Sanders’ vision for a future where health emergencies are met with fairness and humanity remains a beacon for policymakers worldwide. The hope is that the final treaty will reflect a true commitment to these values, ensuring that when the next health crisis emerges, no life is deemed less worthy of saving than another.