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House Democrats demand affordable prices for taxpayer-funded Zika vaccine

Eleven House Democrats sent a letter to Acting Secretary of the Army, Robert Speer, raising serious concerns about awarding an exclusive license for the production of the Zika vaccine to Sanofi, a prescription drug manufacturer.

The letter, led by Rep Jan Schakowsky, opposes the proposed awarding of an exclusive license to manufacture the vaccine. In the letter, co-signers Reps. Lloyd Doggett, John Conyers, Jr, Judy Chu, Mark Pocan, Rosa DeLauro, Pramila Jayapal, Keith Ellison, Michelle Lujan Grishman, Elijah Cummings, and Peter Welch, explained how this license would give Sanofi a monopoly on the vaccine. This would allow the company to set the price for the vital treatment, possibly placing it out of reach to people around the world and hard-working Americans who paid for the research with their taxpayer dollars.

The letter states: “We write to you to strongly urge the Department of the Army not provide an exclusive license to Sanofi Pasteur, Inc. for two pending patents to manufacture the Zika vaccine.  If such a license is issued, we are very concerned that the price of the vaccine, which was developed with taxpayer dollars, will be unaffordable for people in the United States and around the world.  As you know, the cost of the drugs is one of the most pressing public health concerns and rising drug costs continue to harm patients who need access to those drugs and taxpayers who both pay to develop many drugs and fund public insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid.”

The letter goes on to outline concerns with issuing an exclusive license using taxpayer dollars:

“When the Zika virus surfaced and infectious disease experts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) determined the threat it posed to the American public, it became a national priority for Congress to take swift action and allocate funding for developing an effective vaccine to combat the spread and infection of the Zika virus.  As a result, Congress acted to provide NIH with more than $40 million to develop and test such a vaccine.  Despite that substantial investment by taxpayers, on December 9th, the Department of the Army filed with the Federal Register a Notice of Intent to grant Sanofi exclusive licenses for two pending government patents to manufacture the Zika vaccine.  The Notice of Intent would give Sanofi a monopoly for the Zika vaccine without any restrictions or requirements that they ensure the vaccine is affordable for all those who need it.” 

The letter closes by asking the Department of the Army to not issue an exclusive license, or to at least put in place requirements that the Zika vaccine be made affordable to Americans and millions of people around the world who need access to this vaccine in order to prevent another Zika outbreak.

 

The text of the letter is included below and can be found online here:

Dear ­­­­­­­­­­Acting Secretary Speer:

We write to you to strongly urge the Department of the Army not provide an exclusive license to Sanofi Pasteur, Inc. for two pending patents to manufacture the Zika vaccine.  If such a license is issued, we are very concerned that the price of the vaccine, which was developed with taxpayer dollars, will be unaffordable for people in the United States and around the world.  As you know, the cost of the drugs is one of the most pressing public health concerns and rising drug costs continue to harm patients who need access to those drugs and taxpayers who both pay to develop many drugs and fund public insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Our concerns have been echoed by organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, who fear that without safeguards in place to ensure the vaccine is affordable, it will be inaccessible to people in developing countries who can ill-afford such costs.  Moreover, President Trump has repeatedly called for action to lower drug prices, and we fear awarding an exclusive license for a critical vaccine developed with public funds to a single drug manufacturer will set a dangerous precedent.  

When the Zika virus surfaced and infectious disease experts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) determined the threat it posed to the American public, it became a national priority for Congress to take swift action and allocate funding for developing an effective vaccine to combat the spread and infection of the Zika virus.  As a result, Congress acted to provide NIH with more than $40 million to develop and test such a vaccine.  Despite that substantial investment by taxpayers, on December 9th, the Department of the Army filed with the Federal Register a Notice of Intent to grant Sanofi exclusive licenses for two pending government patents to manufacture the Zika vaccine.  The Notice of Intent would give Sanofi a monopoly for the Zika vaccine without any restrictions or requirements that they ensure the vaccine is affordable for all those who need it. 

In order to ensure that the investment made by taxpayers was worthwhile, it is critical that we ensure the vaccine to prevent against the Zika virus is accessible to anyone who requires it.  Again, we strongly urge the Department of the Army not provide an exclusive license to Sanofi to manufacture this vaccine.  If the Department of the Army does decide to move forward with their proposal, we implore you to instead issue a limited license and put in place requirements that this vaccine must be available at an affordable price and allow the federal government to intervene if Sanofi prices the drug at a level that would make it inaccessible to the millions of Americans who need access to a vaccine they paid to develop.  Without these changes, we are fearful that Americans and people in developing countries will not be properly protected against future outbreaks of the Zika virus.

We look forward to your response, and to working with the Administration to ensure that the price of the Zika vaccine does not threaten public health by deterring access to this vital therapy.

Sincerely,

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    repName Jan Schakowsky  
    helpWithFedAgencyAddress Chicago Office
    5533 N. Broadway
    Chicago, IL 60640
     
    district 9th District of Illinois  
    academyUSCitizenDate July 1, 2017  
    academyAgeDate July 1, 2017  
    academyApplicationDueDate October 20, 2017  
    repStateABBR IL  
    repDistrict 9  
    repState Illinois  
    repDistrictText 9th  
    repPhoto    
    SponsoredBills Sponsored Bills  
    CoSponsoredBills Co-Sponsored Bills