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McHenry pushes $1B reward for coronavirus vaccine

Legislation aims to spur race to cure COVID-19

Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., walks to the Capitol on the morning of Oct. 29, 2019.
Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., walks to the Capitol on the morning of Oct. 29, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A lawmaker who helped create the federal crowdfunding program unveiled legislation that would award as much as $1 billion to anyone who finds a cure for the rampaging coronavirus.

A bill by Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., would bestow the billion-dollar prize to the company that devises a vaccine for COVID-19 within three years. McHenry was the sponsor of a measure the House passed in 2011 that was incorporated into the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012.

“We can’t take on a new threat with old tactics,” McHenry, the ranking Republican on the Financial Services Committee, said in a statement. “We need whole-of-government solutions that embrace our technological capabilities and support what separates our nation from the rest — our small businesses, innovators, and entrepreneurs.”

[Vaccine prices a flashpoint in coronavirus funding talks]

Public health officials say no one has developed a cure for COVID-19, which has infected more than 200,000 people since it originated in Wuhan, China, in December and killed more than 9,000. Experts predict a vaccine won’t become available until the fall at the earliest, although some companies say they are close to refining one.

McHenry didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The legislation would give the executive branch the power to bestow the reward to a company or companies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Institutes of Health would calculate that a vaccine had cut the incidence and mortality rate of COVID-19 by more than half and been made “widely available at an affordable price.” The Treasury Department would then pay the company or person $1 billion.

In addition, McHenry’s bill would eliminate caps on crowdfunding firms that work to fight the virus.

Four House Republicans are co-sponsoring the legislation, including Rep. Bill Huizenga of Michigan, the ranking member of the Financial Services Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship, and Capital Markets Subcommittee.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., the current chairman of that subcommittee, expressed doubts about the legislation after mulling it over.

“It’s an interesting idea,” Sherman said in an interview with CQ Roll Call, noting that $1 billion is “a lot of money, but how would you determine one company found a vaccine before another one?”

“It’s apparent to me this is good public relations,” he said. “It’s not apparent to me it’s a good bill.”

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