In a letter initiated by People’s Health Movement country circles in Australia, Canada, Japan, South Korea, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the PHM-Europe region; health activists, academics, and civil society from the global north call on their governments to join the world in supporting the TRIPS waiver proposal in WTO to ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across the globe.
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The full letter is pasted below and can also be found here.
Global north CSOs call on USA, Japan, South-Korea, EU, Canada, Australia, Norway and UK to support TRIPS Waiver Proposal
March 11 will mark one year since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 a pandemic, with global impact and requiring global response. However, notwithstanding rhetoric around a shared experience and the need for collective mobilization, we barely see the global solidarity and commitment necessary to address this pandemic. With regard to COVID-19 treatments and health technologies, including vaccines, wealthy countries have taken nationalistic approaches, securing priority access and hoarding vaccines for their own populations at the expense of the health of everyone.
Only global solidarity can meet the current challenge–putting human rights and people’s health and lives at the center of the response. We call on our governments to join with South Africa, India and over 100 other countries in supporting the TRIPS waiver proposal currently before the WTO. The proposal calls for the temporary suspension of the patent system for Covid-19 products until worldwide immunity is achieved. This proposal would give all countries in the world the ability to decide whether to ignore some of the provisions of intellectual property law set out in the TRIPS Agreement, to save lives without fear of sanctions. Importantly, it would allow for the necessary expansion and diversification in vaccine supply, allowing manufacturers worldwide to ramp up vaccine production.
The possibility of such a waiver–first urged by public-interest civil society groups seeking universal access to life-saving HIV-AIDS treatment and validated by the 2001 Doha Declaration–called for the suspension of WTO patent rules (the TRIPS agreement) in the face of public health emergencies. A pandemic–or as WHO’s International Health Regulations define it: a public health emergency of international concern–is precisely the kind of situation that demands the exercise of such a waiver.
COVID-19 vaccine development has required the investment of billions in public funds as well as the contributions of volunteers around the world–in the global north and south–who participated in clinical trials to ensure their safety and efficacy. Given this collective effort, COVID-19 vaccines should be a global public good. However, governments in high-income countries–even though they have subsidized the research–have prioritized the financial interests of pharmaceutical companies, protecting their intellectual property (IP) and profitsover the health and lives of the population.
The voluntary charity and donation schemes in place, such as C-TAP and COVAX, which many of our governments have contributed to, are insufficient to ensure the rates of vaccination needed to save lives and slow the spread of the pandemic. Indeed, 9 out of 10 people in low-income countries will have to wait until 2022 or later to be vaccinated while rich countries have secured enough vaccines to vaccinate their populations three times over. Some countries, such as Canada, have not only bought or pre-ordered enough vaccines to vaccinate the population five times over through private deals, but are taking COVAX stocks BEFORE low-income countries get access to them.
The opposition of the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom, Norway, Australia, and other rich countries to this proposal will only prolong the pandemic and the multiple accompanying crises–economic, social, public health. In a moment when urgent access to all tools for preventive, testing, containment and treatment options is imperative, this opposition is untenable,self-defeating, and downright immoral.
We demand that our governments cease blocking the proposal from South Africa and India. The time is now to stop vaccine nationalism, private profiteering, and stand in solidarity with the world for health equity and human rights.