Taiwanese company Medigen has hired Jeff Ricchetti, the brother of President Biden’s senior adviser Steve Ricchetti, to help get its COVID-19 vaccine added to the list of vaccines that qualify foreign citizens to enter the US.
Medigen hired Ricchetti on Dec. 14 to represent the company on “[i]ssues related to COVID-19 vaccines accepted for foreign travelers to the United States,” according to a lobbying registration form.
Since November, the US has required foreign visitors to test negative for the coronavirus and present proof of full vaccination with either an FDA-approved or World Health Organization-approved vaccine.
The WHO has not approved Medigen’s vaccine, but it has approved the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines produced by mainland China despite their relatively low efficacy against even the original strain of COVID-19.
Medigen’s vaccine received emergency authorization in Taiwan in July without Phase 3 clinical trials to evaluate its efficacy in humans. At the time, the island was struggling to secure vaccines from other companies.
Skepticism of the vaccine’s effectiveness resulted in low demand in Taiwan. About 80 percent of island residents are now vaccinated, with most receiving US-approved Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the WHO-approved AstraZeneca vaccine.
But nearly 1 million residents — including Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen — got at least one shot of Medigen’s vaccine and therefore cannot enter the US under current rules.
Taiwan’s government has started to donate Medigen doses to poorer countries due to low domestic demand. Taiwan’s foreign ministry said this week it was sending 150,000 shots to Somaliland, a breakaway republic in East Africa.
The Omicron variant, which is causing record-high US COVID-19 cases, has sharply reduced the power of vaccines to prevent infection. However, preliminary data indicate vaccines still reduce the severity of illness, and Pfizer and Moderna say booster shots lessen the chance of infection.
The new lobbying gig adds to Jeff Ricchetti’s 2021 business boom, which has drawn ethics concerns. His firm Ricchetti Inc. reaped $2.4 million in lobbying fees in the first three quarters of 2021, but took in just $1.2 million in all of 2020 before Biden took office, according to Opensecrets.org.
Biden last month visited a General Motors electric vehicle factory after GM paid Ricchetti $160,000 to lobby the government on “[i]ssues related to tax incentives for electric vehicles and charging stations” and “[i]ssues related to climate policy that affect the automobile industry,” according to disclosure forms.
Steve Ricchetti is a “counselor to the president” — an influential post held in past administrations by Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon (Donald Trump), John Podesta (Barack Obama) and Paul Begala (Bill Clinton). He serves as a prominent liaison between the West Wing and Capitol Hill and reportedly was a key negotiator with centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) on the sprawling $2 trillion Build Back Better Act.
Manchin said earlier this month he would not support the measure. However, Biden has said he’s still trying to sway Manchin, whose stance dictates the package’s fate in the evenly divided Senate.
Biden’s social spending plan pitched $12,500 rebates for buyers of electric cars. Manchin clashed with the White House on details including whether rebates should be restricted to unionized carmakers like GM and whether upper-income people should be eligible.
Other major Jeff Ricchetti clients include Amazon, semiconductor maker Applied Materials Inc. and pharmaceutical companies GlaxoSmithKline, Evofem Biosciences, Neurocrine Biosciences and Eagle Pharmaceuticals.
Neither Ricchetti brother replied to The Post’s requests for comment.