Miami lawmaker wants American branding on all vaccines sent abroad

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Miami Republican U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar wants the U.S. to be more like China and Russia when it comes to international vaccine distribution.

For months, the two U.S. adversaries have sent their own COVID-19 vaccines to countries across the world. China sent millions of doses to Chile, and the South American country’s 84% vaccination rate per 100 people ranks among the highest in the world. Russia, as part of a public relations push, vaccinated the entire micro-state of San Marino, which is now offering Russian-made vaccines to tourists in a bid to revive its economy.

Salazar thinks the U.S. should be employing similar tactics, particularly in Latin America. On Friday, Salazar introduced the AMIGOS Act, which stands for American Medical Innovation Generating Overseas Security, with a group of Republican lawmakers.

The bill would require American-made vaccines to be packaged with “U.S.A. branding” when vaccines are sent directly to other countries. It also would make Congress responsible for signing off on waivers for intellectual property protections for U.S.-made vaccines.

President Joe Biden reversed course this month and waived intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines amid pressure from Democratic lawmakers and dozens of countries around the world. Republicans, including Salazar, said they oppose the decision because it undermines incentives for U.S. companies to spend money and time to develop vaccines.

“This decision does not immediately improve the global supply of vaccines, which are desperately needed in hardest-hit countries,” Salazar said on May 7. “Moreover, it will undermine the protection U.S. companies need to facilitate research and development, invest in miracle cures, and protect against manipulation from state-backed industries in China and Russia.”

The head of the World Health Organization called the change “a monumental moment in the fight against COVD-19.” The three U.S. vaccine makers, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer, saw their stock prices decrease when the change was announced.

“These extraordinary times and circumstances call for extraordinary measures,” said Katherine Tai, the top U.S. trade negotiator. “The U.S. supports the waiver of IP protections on COVID-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic and we’ll actively participate in [World Trade Organization] negotiations to make that happen.”

It’s unlikely that the AMIGOS Act will pass the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. Salazar, who represents thousands of Latin American immigrants in Congress, is likely to face a competitive reelection bid in 2022.

In a statement, Salazar said the U.S. should prioritize direct vaccine distribution abroad once every American has access to the vaccine. She said U.S. donations to vaccines to COVAX, an international vaccine distribution effort run by the World Health Organization, alongside other vaccine-producing countries means the low and middle-income countries that end up with shots through the program aren’t aware if U.S.-made vaccines are the ones distributed to them.

“Rather than crushing free market innovation, the U.S. should be proposing bold surplus vaccine donation plans, increase awareness of current U.S. efforts, and ramp up vaccine manufacturing,” Salazar said in a statement. “Our most vulnerable allies and neighbors, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean are counting on us to get this right and slow viral spread and COVID-19 mutations. I’ve introduced the AMIGOS Act to develop a strategy for effective U.S. vaccine diplomacy and counter Communist China’s and [Vladimir] Putin’s Russia’s growing influence in our hemisphere.”

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