May 06, 2021
The political leadership of Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and other rich nations faced growing pressure Thursday to immediately throw their support behind a patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines after the Biden administration endorsed the proposal as a key step toward distributing life-saving vaccines to people across the globe.
"The U.K., E.U., and all remaining blockers need to get out of the way and let the whole world work to contain this awful virus as quickly as possible."
--Nick Dearden, Global Justice Now
The U.S. backing of the patent waiver on Wednesday--after helping to block it for months--was hailed as a potentially transformative move, but opposition from Canada, much of Europe, and other wealthy countries remains a key obstacle in the way of achieving the World Trade Organization consensus needed for final approval.
"This seismic decision from the Biden administration is a watershed moment," said Nick Dearden, director of the London-based advocacy group Global Justice Now. "It could be the beginning of the end of vaccine apartheid, if other leaders like Boris Johnson stop standing in the way. The prime minister has no more excuses."
"This is not the end of the process, and negotiations will now begin at the WTO in earnest--these negotiations must be conducted openly and with transparency. We urge all world leaders to see the writing on the wall and put peoples' lives ahead of corporate profit," Dearden continued. "The U.K., E.U., and all remaining blockers need to get out of the way and let the whole world work to contain this awful virus as quickly as possible."
Doctors Without Borders, a global humanitarian organization that has been campaigning for the patent waiver, published an updated map showing which nations are for and against the proposal:
\u201cSee below which countries support the #TRIPSwaiver which would halt IP/patents on COVID-19 medicines, vaccines, and other health tools, until global herd immunity is reached. (Helping manufacturers scale up production of these lifesaving tools).\nMore info: https://t.co/cTEtVdihAY\u201d— MSF UK (@MSF UK) 1620246392
"We have the necessary momentum and mechanisms to now deliver a people's vaccine for the world," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS. "The rest of the G7 and the European Union must urgently follow President Biden--and join over 100 countries around the world in supporting a suspension of intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization."
Hours after U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai issued a statement announcing the Biden administration's support for the patent waiver--which is led by India and South Africa--the president of the European Commission said in a non-committal speech Thursday morning that the E.U. is "ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner."
We have the necessary momentum and mechanisms to now deliver a people's vaccine for the world. The rest of the G7 and the European Union must urgently follow President Biden."
--Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS
But French President Emmanuel Macron bucked his fellow E.U. leaders Thursday by voicing support for the temporary patent waiver, telling reporters that he is "very much in favor of opening up intellectual property."
"We must obviously make this vaccine a global public good," Macron said. "The priority, today, is certainly to give doses. In the short term, this is what will allow us to vaccinate people. And the second thing is to produce, in partnership with the poorest countries."
Canada's foreign minister, meanwhile, echoed the vague remarks of the European Commission president in an interview late Wednesday, saying the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is "very active" in the patent waiver talks but has yet to reach a decision on the measure.
In a statement following the Biden White House's endorsement of the waiver, Jagmeet Singh, the leader of Canada's New Democratic Party, said that "Trudeau must follow the U.S. administration in supporting the suspension of drug patents for Covid-19 vaccines for the time of the pandemic."
"Instead of protecting, big pharmaceutical companies' profits, Justin Trudeau should be protecting human lives," said Singh. "These companies should not determine who should live or die. The Liberals need to stop putting the profits of big pharmaceuticals ahead of the health and well-being of people."
The British government is another prominent opponent of the patent waiver, which would enable generic manufacturers to copy vaccine formulas and build upon the world's artificially scarce supply. Johnson--who infamously attributed the U.K.'s early vaccination successes to "greed"--has yet to indicate a change of position in the wake of the Biden administration's announcement.
"This would help save many lives by allowing poorer countries to produce their own vaccines," tweeted Labour MP Richard Burgon. "Immorally, Boris Johnson has far refused to back this. He must now do so at the WTO talks."
\u201cThis is amazing news!! Well done @POTUS @AmbassadorTai for standing up to Big Pharma and taking this historic step to put saving millions of lives above protecting super-profits. \n\n@BorisJohnson The UK now needs to stop shamelessly blocking this IP waiver proposal\u201d— Heidi Chow (@Heidi Chow) 1620243162
Campaigners hope U.S. support for the intellectual property waiver will jumpstart WTO patent talks that have been stagnant for months amid soaring coronavirus case counts and deaths across the globe, with much of the increase driven by horrific waves in India and other developing countries that have struggled to vaccinate their populations.
Amitabh Behar, executive director of Oxfam India, said in a statement Thursday that "India is the pharmacy of the world but it has been gasping for breath--choked by big pharmaceutical corporations monopolies."
"Pre-qualified manufacturers are ready to swing into production mode and start making hundreds of millions doses, available to all for free," said Behar. "But for that to be possible we need the European Union and every rich country still blocking a waiver on intellectual property rules to join President Biden and over 100 countries and offer hope for India and many other countries that we are indeed not being left behind."
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