Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his fifth State of the Nation address in front of a nearly empty parliament on February 11, 2021.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers his fifth State of the Nation address in front of a nearly empty parliament on February 11, 2021. (Photo: Esa Alexander/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

In Fiery Remarks at WTO, South Africa Slams Rich Nations Blocking Vaccine Patent Waiver

"Is the concern of opponents really that Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, etc. have not made sufficient billions?" asked a trade representative for the African nation.

Jake Johnson

In statements at an informal World Trade Organization meeting on Thursday, South Africa took rich countries to task for publicly stressing the need for international cooperation in the fight against Covid-19 while simultaneously blocking a patent waiver that would help manufacturers ramp up vaccine production across the globe.

"One year on, three million deaths later, there is still huge disparity in access to vaccines, while the technology and knowledge for the development and production of vaccine is monopolized through the intellectual property system, with only select manufacturers allowed to manufacture by way of a license, and even then on terms that restrict production and supply," a South African representative said during the WTO gathering.

"One year on, three million deaths later, there is still huge disparity in access to vaccines, while the technology and knowledge for the development and production of vaccine is monopolized."

"There are a handful of developed countries blocking progress on the discussion of our proposal that has received massive global support," the representative continued. "These same countries call for international solidarity and yet at the same time have purchased most of the vaccine supply sufficient to vaccinate their population several times over with the result of denying developing countries access to vaccines."

Along with India and more than 100 other nations, South Africa is pushing for a temporary waiver of WTO intellectual property protections that, according to critics, are artificially limiting vaccine supply by keeping manufacturing under the control of profit-driven pharmaceutical corporations.

The waiver—which is being blocked by the U.S., the United Kingdom, and other wealthy nations—would enable generic manufacturers around the world to replicate vaccine formulas, a step advocates say is necessary to meet global needs as coronavirus infections surge.

Pointing to a recent Guardian report detailing the massive profits Pfizer, Moderna, and other drug companies are raking in from sales of their vaccines, South Africa's spokesperson at the WTO meeting asked, "Is the concern of [waiver] opponents really that Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, etc. have not made sufficient billions, while in the current Covid situation... specific industries and economies are collapsing and millions of lives and livelihoods around the world are at stake?"

"Of the more than 890 million vaccine doses that have been administered globally, more than 81% have been given in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Low-income countries have received just 0.3 percent."
—Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization
"While we have circular discussions in this forum, the virus is running rampant, evading vaccines, with a strong likelihood that the lack of vaccines in many parts of the world will come back to bite hard, with many more lockdowns and illnesses," the official continued. "If the opposition is just to protect the few more billions these companies will make, then the opposition is self-defeating and short-sighted."

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, echoed that warning in a Friday op-ed for the New York Times, writing that the "longer this coronavirus circulates anywhere, the longer global trade and travel will be disrupted, and the higher the chances that a variant could emerge that renders vaccines less effective."

"Of the more than 890 million vaccine doses that have been administered globally, more than 81% have been given in high- and upper-middle-income countries," Tedros noted. "Low-income countries have received just 0.3 percent."

In addition to offering financial resources and excess doses to developing countries in need, Tedros argued that rich countries should back South Africa and India's proposal to temporarily waive certain coronavirus-related intellectual property rights, a move that he said "would level the playing field and give countries more leverage" in vaccine discussions with pharmaceutical companies.

"If this is not a time to take those actions," wrote Tedros, "it's hard to fathom when that would be."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Lancet Report Warns Planetary Crisis Will Spur More Infectious Diseases, Climate Refugees

While raising alarm about an "increasingly extreme and unpredictable environment," experts emphasize that "the world is faced with an unprecedented opportunity to ensure a healthy future for all."

Jessica Corbett ·



'Hanging Your Constituents Out to Dry': 5 Sinema Advisers Quit in Protest

"You have become one of the principal obstacles to progress, answering to big donors rather than your own people."

Brett Wilkins ·


Leaked Docs Reveal Fossil Fuel-Soaked Nations Lobbying to Sabotage Climate Action

"They are using every opportunity to protect their corporate interests and continue with business as usual while the planet burns."

Andrea Germanos ·


Big Pharma, Rich Nations Have Delivered Just 14% of Vaccine Doses Promised to Poor Nations

"It is painfully clear that the developing world cannot rely on the largesse and charity of rich nations and pharmaceutical companies, and hundreds of thousands of people are dying from Covid-19 as a result."

Julia Conley ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo