Biden Prioritizes Big Pharma in Pandemic Treaty Negotiations

U.S. negotiators are opposed to sharing vaccine and drug patent information if another pandemic strikes.

Correction: This article was updated to clarify the impact of the pandemic treaty on U.S. sovereignty and decision-making.

What’s happening: With the May deadline for The World Health Organization's pandemic treaty fast approaching, the Biden administration and the pharmaceutical industry are united on a hardline stance to protect the intellectual property of drugs and vaccines in the event of another pandemic. For the treaty to pass, there must be a consensus among pharmaceutical companies, public health officials, and politicians.

  • Pandemic preparations: If the treaty passes, the WHO would have the power to declare pandemics and fund pandemic operations in underdeveloped nations with U.S. tax dollars. Countries would still technically have "sovereignty" over their own pandemic policies.

  • Catch up: In efforts to appease progressives, President Biden temporarily waived U.S. intellectual property policy to allow developing countries to produce their own vaccines with U.S. drugmakers' formulas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inconsistency: Biden is attacking the pharmaceutical industry at home. He has dedicated his campaign to combatting Big Pharma's “corporate greed,” even suggesting seizing the same patents he is protecting in deliberations with the WHO.

Why it matters: Biden's backing of the pharmaceutical industry in the treaty negotiations is an example of his policy fluctuation, often a haphazard effort to solicit support from both the moderate and progressive wings of his fractured party. If negotiators reach a consensus, the U.S. could be ceremonially bound to the WHO's policy priorities in the event of a pandemic.

What's Next? Deliberations resume on February 19. Progressive advocates of the deal, such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), continue to pressure Biden to make concessions. The White House argues Biden's position could evolve before the deadline.

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