(6 May 2021) Following the welcome announcement on 5 May by President Biden that the US Government will no longer oppose lifting IPR patent protection in the WTO TRIPS agreement for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, all eyes are now on the upcoming EU Trade Council meeting on 20 May. Will the EU and Member States also give into reason and stop blocking the waiver?
The writer George Bernard Shaw’s comment that ‘those that can’t change their minds, can’t change anything.’ is spot on today. EPSU, PSI and the millions of health and social care workers around the world expect Trade Minsters to change their minds and to commit to put tackling the pandemic first.
As the US trade negotiator in the WTO said, “This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures.”
Amid growing concerns that big outbreaks in India and the Global South will allow the rise of vaccine-resistant strains of the deadly virus, undermining a global recovery, it is only common sense for all countries to support the TRIPS waiver.
A temporary and targeted waiver of TRIPs rules to allow countries to produce affordable versions of patented COVID vaccines without fear of legal challenge would be an important step in the right direction.
Global South countries have only been able to access 1% of vaccines due to lack of supply and the high cost of purchasing patented vaccines. As a consequence, the pandemic continues to impact on health and livelihoods, deepening global inequalities and stalling progress towards meeting the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The slow take up of vaccination in the Global South is leading to new variants taking hold in vaccinated countries. The delay in vaccination means that already in many countries vulnerable health and social care systems risk collapsing.
The pharmaceutical industry’s claims that maintaining intellectual property rights on COVID related treatments is needed to reward future innovation has never been supported by evidence – only wishful thinking. The data shows that an enormous amount - 98.12% of the USD 5.9bn tracked - of public funding has supported research and development and production of COVID-19 vaccines treatments.* Figures are an underestimation as there is lack of financial transparency but in any case it is clear that public finance is enabling the development of COVID treatments and that it will continue to do so.
It is more than fair that the benefits of public funding and investment are shared with the public on an equitable basis.
The opposition of the EU Member States and other countries to the waiver with each passing day becomes more shameful. EPSU and many affiliates our lobbying governments hard - in the UK, Turkey, Norway, France, Italy, Ireland (where the Irish President, guest speaker at the recent EPSU Congress in Dublin is also supporting the waiver) and many more are active. We must keep it up!!
EPSU is supporting the European Citizen’s Initiative No Profits on Pandemic. You can sign here. The Commission should listen to the growing number of organisations and people that want to see more leadership.
*See for data attached tables that gives an overview of financing and sources.