HHS Secretary nominee Xavier Becerra must commit to ensuring equitable access to COVID-19 products

A Ministry of Health staff member prepares a measles vaccine before administration in Goma. MSF teams run vaccination campaigns across the globe to prevent diseases in places where health care is limited for people who get sick.
Democratic Republic of Congo 2019 © Samuel Sieber/MSF
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NEW YORK, FEBRUARY 23, 2021—The US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions is considering today the nomination of Xavier Becerra for Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). If approved by the committee and later confirmed by the full US Senate, Becerra must commit to ensuring equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and tests now and in the future, said the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The pandemic won’t be over for anyone until it’s over for everyone.

The agency, through its offices, including the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, distributed to pharmaceutical corporations and other drug developers most of the more than $10 billion the US allocated for biomedical research and development (R&D) through COVID-19 funding bills last year. Unfortunately, it failed to put any affordability and accessibility conditions on that funding. To help make sure people everywhere have access to COVID-19 tools—and to end the pandemic here—the agency must put conditions on any future taxpayer funding it gives pharmaceutical corporations and demand transparency. 

Demanding that companies that receive US funding disclose details like R&D and manufacturing costs and terms and conditions of funding and licensing agreements is critical so people, governments, and treatment providers like MSF are in a better position to demand access and fair prices.

Dana Gill, US policy advisor for MSF’s Access Campaign, said today:

Leaders working under HHS have rightfully acknowledged that vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics must be equitably distributed and accessible for people all over the world in order to end the COVID-19 pandemic for all of us.

“Xavier Becerra, if confirmed, must help make that a reality.

“Throughout the past year, HHS has played an important role in the COVID-19 response by overseeing and funding more of the R&D on COVID-19 vaccines and other medical tools than any other US agency. Controlling the majority of COVID-19 money that goes to pharmaceutical corporations puts HHS in a strong position to demand global affordability and accessibility and better meet public health needs.

“Unfortunately, the agency failed to attach stringent affordability and access conditions to the funding it made available to pharmaceutical corporations—a mistake we can’t afford to make again. Any new deals between the US government and pharmaceutical companies for the development of new COVID-19 tools must stipulate that they will be affordable and accessible to people in the US and around the world.

“Additionally, the US government and drug makers that receive public funding should share, right away, the technology and know-how other countries need to rapidly scale up manufacturing of existing vaccines to help increase the number of vaccine doses that are available.

“We also need to know what these deals say—and how this US funding is being used—in order to hold companies accountable. One way HHS could do that is by being more transparent about its COVID-19 product contracts and R&D costs like clinical trial costs that public funding is being used to cover. This would put people, governments, and treatment providers like MSF in a better position to demand supply information and fair prices.”