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An effigy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is displayed during a protest calling for the suspension of intellectual property barriers to facilitate the increased production of Covid-19 vaccines, at Lafayette Square in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. on July 15, 2021. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

An effigy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel is displayed during a protest calling for the suspension of intellectual property barriers to facilitate the increased production of Covid-19 vaccines, at Lafayette Square in front of the White House in Washington, D.C. on July 15, 2021. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

'Vaccine Apartheid Kills': White House Die-In Targets Merkel for Blocking Patent Waiver

Germany's continued obstruction of the TRIPS waiver "means more people will die when they could have been saved if they had access to life-saving vaccines."

Kenny Stancil

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday for a White House summit to discuss "ending the Covid-19 pandemic," she was greeted outside by a giant puppet of herself alongside dozens of body bags, symbolizing the victims of Germany's ongoing obstruction of a proposed patent waiver that public health advocates say would boost the global production of sorely needed vaccines.

"Every day Chancellor Merkel delays global action on Covid vaccines costs thousands of lives and increases the chances of a viral mutation that can evade current vaccines and start the pandemic all over for everyone."
—Arthur Stamoulis, Citizens Trade Campaign

Although more than 140 nations have backed a popular motion at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement for the duration of the pandemic, Germany remains opposed to the measure, even as the Delta variant ravages impoverished countries throughout the Global South—made highly vulnerable by the starkly unequal distribution of life-saving shots.

"While Americans and Western Europeans increasingly have widespread access to Covid vaccination, huge numbers of people around the world won't have access to a vaccine for years unless global production is dramatically increased," Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC), said in a statement. CTC is part of a coalition of progressive advocacy groups—which also includes Justice is Global, Health GAP, and others—that helped organize Thursday's "die-in" protest in Washington, D.C. along with other actions this week.

More than 3.5 billion doses have been administered globally, but according to Our World in Data, a mere 1% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose. Meanwhile, even though billions of people worldwide have yet to receive a single dose, Pfizer this week sought U.S. authorization for booster shots.

Oxfam estimated last month that at the current pace, it would take impoverished nations until nearly 2080 to fully inoculate their populations, a manifestation of global health injustice that progressives around the world have dubbed "vaccine apartheid." The pandemic's official global death toll, meanwhile, surpassed four million last week, including close to three million since India and South Africa first proposed the TRIPS waiver last October.

Emphasizing that "vaccine apartheid kills," Health GAP said Merkel's continued obstruction of the TRIPS waiver "means more people will die when they could have been saved if they had access to life-saving vaccines."

Stamoulis noted that "every day Chancellor Merkel delays global action on Covid vaccines costs thousands of lives and increases the chances of a viral mutation that can evade current vaccines and start the pandemic all over for everyone."

"Merkel is refusing to support the TRIPS waiver... to shield the powerful at the expense of ending the nightmare of Covid-19, and this leaves blood on her hands."
—Ben Levinson, Justice is Global

Although Biden received praise for endorsing the TRIPS waiver in May following months of U.S. opposition, he has done little since then to publicly pressure Washington's allies to follow suit, prompting criticism from advocacy groups and experts.

A handful of countries—led by Germany and several other rich members of the European Union—continues to side with Big Pharma by resisting calls to drop patent protections for Covid-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. Because the WTO operates by consensus, the intransigence of just one nation is enough to thwart the will of the vast majority.

Ben Levinson, deputy director of Justice is Global, said Thursday that "Merkel is refusing to support the TRIPS waiver... to shield the powerful at the expense of ending the nightmare of Covid-19, and this leaves blood on her hands."

At demonstrations around the country this week, activists continued to push for a temporary waiver of coronavirus-related intellectual property barriers. Progressives have argued for months that Big Pharma's monopolistic control over publicly funded knowledge and technology is currently inhibiting the mass production of generic vaccines as well as diagnostic and therapeutic tools, resulting in an artificially low supply and inequitable allocation of doses that threatens to prolong suffering worldwide.

Prior to her White House visit, Merkel traveled to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where she received an honorary degree. As she arrived, protesters chanted: "Free the vaccine!"

Echoing arguments made Wednesday during Public Citizen's panel on vaccine equity, Stamoulis stressed that "the Merkel-Biden meeting will not be a success unless Germany agrees to support the TRIPS waiver and help end the pandemic."

"With thousands of people still dying of Covid every day due to lack of access to vaccines and treatments, Merkel's visit with President Biden Thursday presents a literal life-or-death opportunity to change course and do the right thing for humanity," said Stamoulis.

"Germany continuing to prioritize pharmaceutical company profits over saving as many lives as possible and ending this pandemic," he added, "would be a horrific stain on Chancellor Merkel's legacy as a world leader."


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