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vaccine equity protest

Protesters hold a rally to "Free the Vaccine," calling on the U.S. to commit to a global coronavirus vaccination plan that includes sharing vaccine formulas with the world, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on May 5, 2021. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images) 

'Delay = Death': Nationwide Vigils Push for Comprehensive Covid-19 Vaccine IP Waiver

"Every day of delay on the TRIPS waiver means more needless death, more families pushed into poverty, and greater chances of a viral mutation that can evade current vaccines."

Brett Wilkins

In a nationwide effort to address global coronavirus vaccine inequities, activists across the United States on Wednesday began holding vigils to remember those who have died during the pandemic and urge governments holding out against waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines to change course. 

"We commend President Biden for supporting a waiver of intellectual property rules for Covid vaccines, and urge him to continue that leadership by pushing for a fast, comprehensive final agreement that translates into getting shots into people's arms as quickly as possible."
—Arthur Stamoulis, CTC

From Wednesday through Sunday, vigils for global access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments will be held at U.S. federal buildings and foreign consulates in cities including Chicago, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, and Seattle, as well as at Pfizer's world headquarters in New York City. Participants will observe moments of silence, read the names of loved ones lost to the pandemic, and light candles in remembrance, according to event organizer Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC). Some participants will hold signs reading: "Delay = Death." 

Activists at some of the events will also deliver letters to consulates calling on countries to support an emergency Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver—first proposed by India and South Africa—that would allow Covid-19 vaccines and treatments to be produced in more locations. Over 100 nations support a TRIPS waiver; last month, U.S. President Joe Biden surprised the world by bowing to grassroots pressure and backing the proposal.

Arthur Stamoulis of CTC called on Biden to go even further. 

"While Americans increasingly have widespread access to Covid vaccination, huge numbers of people around the world aren't expected to have access to a vaccine for years unless global production is dramatically increased," Stamoulis said in a statement.

"We commend President Biden for supporting a waiver of intellectual property rules for Covid vaccines, and urge him to continue that leadership by pushing for a fast, comprehensive final agreement that translates into getting shots into people's arms as quickly as possible," he added. 

Biden's embrace of the TRIPS waiver shifted the spotlight—and pressure—to countries that are still rejecting the proposal. 

"The governments of Germany, Brazil, Australia, Japan, and Colombia are some of the last holdouts against a global agreement to waive intellectual property rights so that Covid vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments can be produced in as many places as possible as quickly as possible," said Will Wiltschko, director of the California Trade Justice Coalition, another one of the vigil organizers.

"We're visiting their consulates because every day of delay on the TRIPS waiver means more needless death, more families pushed into poverty, and greater chances of a viral mutation that can evade current vaccines and start the pandemic all over again for everyone," Wiltschko added. 

"The idea that any country would prioritize pharmaceutical companies' profits over saving as many lives as possible and ending this pandemic is an outrage."
—George Kimball, organizer

The vigils will precede a June 8 World Trade Organization meeting, at which policymakers "will be making life-or-death decisions about the TRIPS waiver," according to CTC. 

"Over 12,000 people are dying of Covid every day," said George Kimball, organizer of the Albany, New York vigil. "The idea that any country would prioritize pharmaceutical companies' profits over saving as many lives as possible and ending this pandemic is an outrage."

"Governments need to get together and approve the TRIPS waiver now," he added. 


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