Biden's move to waive COVID-19 vaccine patents fulfills a 2020 campaign promise to Ady Barkan, a famed activist with the degenerative disease ALS

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A composite image of President Joe Biden and progressive health campaigner Ady Barkan
President Joe Biden and progressive health campaigner Ady Barkan. Jonathan Ernst/Democratic National Convention via Reuters
  • Biden's support for COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers has made good on a campaign promise.

  • In July 2020 he told progressive health campaigner Ady Barkan he would support the move.

  • After a long pause, and significant pressure, Biden and his officials voice support on Wednesday.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

President Joe Biden's decision to support the waiving of patents on COVID-19 vaccines fulfills a high-profile campaign promise he made to progressive health campaigner Ady Barkan.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced US support for the waiver on Wednesday. US backing will give the measure a strong chance of passing when it is debated in upcoming proceedings at the World Trade Organization.

The US has been under considerable scrutiny over the decision. More than 100 Nobel laureates and 75 former world leaders called on Biden to support the move in a letter published Wednesday, calling it "a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic."

The decision also harks back to the 2020 presidential election campaign, when Biden was pressed by Barkan in July on the question of sharing vaccine intellectual property globally.

At the time, there were no proven vaccines for COVID-19, but US companies like Pfizer and Moderna were going through trials that ended in working products.

Rich countries had already placed orders for millions of doses, and campaigners predicted that poorer nations would struggle to access the technology.

Barkan interviewed Biden during the primaries and grilled him on questions of healthcare policy. His responses - including clear support on the vaccine patent issue - earned him Barkan's endorsement.

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He asked: "If the US discovers a vaccine first, will you commit to sharing that technology with other countries? And will you ensure there are no patents to stand in the way of other countries mass-producing those life-saving vaccines?"

Biden's answer was an immediate: "Absolutely, positively. This is the only humane thing in the world to do."

Those promises were widely shared again on Wednesday in a video from progressive campaign organization More Perfect Union, in which Barkan said: "Dear President Biden, I want to remind you of a promise you made to me and to the American people."

"You and I are both safe from this deadly pandemic because we could get the vaccine," he continued. "And we will stay safe if you reverse Trump's inhumane policies and we vaccinate the entire world."

Biden oversaw the rapid US vaccine rollout, and has now set a goal of having 70% of the US population at least partially vaccinated by July 4.

But the virus has reached crisis levels other countries - notably India, where the health system is crumbling under record levels of infections and a slow vaccine rollout. The crisis has further focused international attention on equitable access to the shot.

Barkan began campaigning for health issues such as widening Medicare access after his diagnosis with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a progressive disease of the nervous system. It was the same condition that physicist Steven Hawking lived with.

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In Wednesday's statement, Trade Representative Tai said: "This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic where wealthy nations have so far been reluctant to engage with it."

Barkan called it "great news," in a tweet, saying Biden had done "the right thing."

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