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Chuy Garcia

U.S. Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García (D-Ill.) speaks as Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and TRIPS waiver advocates watch during a protest outside the European Union delegation headquarters in Washington, D.C. on June 24, 2021. (Photo: Congressman Chuy García/Twitter)

US Lawmakers Demand EU 'Do the Right Thing or Get Out of the Way' on Covid-19 Vaccine Patent Waivers

"A global recovery requires a global response based on health needs—not Big Pharma," said Congressman Jesús "Chuy" García at a rally.

Brett Wilkins

U.S. lawmakers joined an array of public health campaigners on Thursday at a demonstration outside the European Union's Washington, D.C. delegation headquarters to demand powerful E.U. nations like Germany end their opposition to an emergency waiver of World Trade Organization patent protections to speed manufacture and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments for the global population.

"Europe still has a lot to do to make up for the injustices of the previous century. They need to start now, by getting people access to the vaccine."
—Rep. Ro Khanna

Human rights and public health advocates, along with labor and faith leaders, rallied with Democratic legislators outside the E.U. offices, where they called on European leaders to stop blocking the more than 130 nations working to secure a 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. 

"A global recovery requires a global response based on health needs—not Big Pharma," Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García (D-Ill.) said at the event. "The Covid-19 virus doesn't recognize borders, and neither should global recovery efforts. That's why more than 130 countries around the world support a TRIPS waiver to facilitate global vaccine access, and we call on the E.U. to stop blocking this commonsense measure that saves lives."

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) said:

If you're going to profess to stand up for human rights and for dignity, then it begins by allowing every person to have access to a vaccine. You can't say you stand up for human rights, and then privilege profits and corporations over people's human rights. That is hypocrisy. We know that when you have a TRIPS waiver, you will incentivize manufacturing across the world...

People say, "There is not enough manufacturing in the Global South." The reason there isn't enough manufacturing in the Global South is because the incentive isn't there to invest in it because of IP laws.

"We're still not out of the woods," warned Khanna. "Let us not be rose-eyed about European history, the history of colonialism, the history of oppression... Europe still has a lot to do to make up for the injustices of the previous century. They need to start now, by getting people access to the vaccine."

Oxfam America president Abby Maxman told the protesters that "we have multiple safe and effective vaccines, what we lack is the political will to increase their supply and facilitate the distribution of these vaccines to everyone, everywhere. The E.U. must do the right thing or get out of the way. [German] Chancellor [Angela] Merkel must decide to put people over profits. We need a people's vaccine now."

Thursday's demonstration followed a week of U.S. vigils for vaccine equity outside foreign consulates earlier this month as well as a letter (pdf) sent Tuesday by 130 advocacy groups calling on President Joe Biden to apply diplomatic pressure to anti-TRIPS stalwarts.

Last month, Biden surprised the world by bowing to grassroots pressure and backing the waiver proposal; French President Emmanuel Macron followed suit.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said last month that "the European Union is also ready to discuss any proposal that addresses the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner," including "how the U.S. proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protection for Covid-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective."

However, a recent summit for G7 nations—which include E.U. members France, Germany, and Italy—was panned by progressives as a "colossal failure" after the group's leaders could only manage to agree to donate enough vaccine doses to inoculate just 11% of the world's unvaccinated population.

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