Feb. 25, 2020 By Kristen Torres
The federal government has already spent $700 million toward the development of a vaccine to combat coronavirus, and lawmakers are calling on the President to ensure that any cures that are developed are affordable to the public.
Representative Grace Meng sent a letter to President Donald Trump alongside 45 other Congress Members last week demanding the administration keep any potential treatments for the virus out of the control of private industry—since most research up until this point has been funded with taxpayer dollars.
The National Institute of Health, which is responsible for carrying out the country’s public health research, has been conducting all trials for a coronavirus cure so far.
Lawmakers argued that granting private manufacturers exclusive rights to develop a cure with research funded by the public would be detrimental to the treatment’s accessibility.
The Feb. 20 letter comes just weeks after the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said clinical trials for potential vaccines could begin within three months.
Lawmakers said they were concerned with President Trump’s willingness to invest heavily “in public-private partnerships without any conditions in place” to guarantee affordable drug pricing and access.
“Any cure or treatment must be affordable and accessible to the public,” Meng said in a statement.
“President Trump has said many times he wants to lower the cost of drugs, but allowing pharmaceutical companies to have exclusive monopoly rights for any coronavirus treatment would be inimical to his promise,” she added.
Representatives said they were worried lower and middle-income people would not be able to adequately protect themselves against current and future coronavirus outbreaks if the cost of vaccines become a financial burden.
They specifically called on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to not give any private manufacturer an exclusive license to develop the treatments and vaccines, and said providing “exclusive monopoly rights” could result in expensive medicine.
“If HHS or any other federal agency moves forward with such a proposal, we urge you to…implement requirements that a vaccine or treatment be made available at an affordable price,” the letter said.
Representatives also said issuing exclusive rights to develop a cure to a private manufacturer would mean wasting millions of dollars of public resources already put into testing.
“We should not grant any manufacturer a blank check to monopolize a coronavirus vaccine or treatment developed with public, taxpayer support,” the letter said.
Senate Minority Leader and New York Senator Chuck Schumer also criticized the Trump administration’s response to the spreading coronavirus while speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday.
“The harsh fact of the matter is: the Trump administration has shown towering and dangerous incompetence when it comes to the coronavirus,” Schumer said.
“The administration has no plan to deal with the coronavirus. We have a crisis, and the Trump administration is trying to build an airplane while already in mid-flight.”