US President Joe Biden speaks about the 50 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine shot administered in the US during an event commemorating the milestone in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC, February 25, 2021.
Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images
The lobbying group that represents several top pharmaceutical companies last month quietly launched a campaign against President Joe Biden and his decision to back waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA, is a political advocacy group that represents more than 30 pharmaceutical firms, including Covid vaccine makers Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson. Late last month it started running a digital ad campaign on Facebook and Google targeting Biden's decision, a CNBC search of the companies' ad archives revealed.
While PhRMA blasted the Biden administration's move shortly after the announcement, the group didn't officially announce a campaign against the waiver push. The details of the effort had yet to be reported.
Proponents of waiving patent protections say it allows poorer nations to ramp up production of the Covid vaccine.
After publication of this story, a PhRMA spokesperson released this statement to CNBC:
"Biopharmaceutical research companies are committed to achieving equitable access around the world to COVID-19 vaccines, and that is why we're educating policymakers and the public about our ongoing efforts to increase vaccine supply for global demand, the risks of waiving intellectual property protections, and the need to address the real issues driving vaccine inequity."
PhRMA's ads on Google call out Biden by name.
"Biden's Harmful Vaccine Stance," reads one of the Google ads reviewed by CNBC. "Biden's Damaging IP Stance," reads another Google spot.
Google's ad archive shows that one of the ads on the search platform cost the group between $1,000 and $50,000. The other cost under $100. Both targeted the area in and around Washington, D.C., according to Google's data.
Each Google ad was live for up to five days through the end of May, according to the search engine's ad transparency report.
The Google ads link to articles written by PhRMA's public affairs team and published on the group's website. One of the posts bears the headline: "The Biden Administration allows politics to upend a pragmatic pandemic response." The article claims that "not only will this policy do nothing to help save lives globally, it could have a damaging impact for American patients."
Another PhRMA post cites a Hill-HarrisX poll that shows that 57% of registered voters who took the survey are against the waiver.
Facebook's ad library shows that PhRMA spent over $245,000 since late April and throughout May on digital spots. A fraction of that spending went toward ads that ran at the end of May taking aim at Biden's decision.
The Facebook ads all had the same message: "Eliminating IP protections undermines our global response to the pandemic and compromises safety." One spot had a potential reach of up to 1 million people, according to data from the social media giant. That ad targeted people in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia. The PhRMA Facebook ads are currently inactive.
Even prior to launching the digital ad campaign, PhRMA was actively lobbying the Biden White House on the patent waiver issue.
First-quarter lobbying disclosure reports, which span from the month Biden was inaugurated through March, show that PhRMA lobbied the Executive Office of the President as well as the Department of Health and Human Services on "international intellectual property and market access policy issues," among other concerns.
PhRMA spent just over $8.5 million on lobbying over the course of the first three months of 2021. Data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics shows the organization spent over $25 million in 2020 and nearly $30 million in 2019 on lobbying-related expenditures.