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Activists protest in favor of an agreement to waive patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines on November 30, 2021 in Geneva.

Activists protest in favor of an agreement to waive patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines on November 30, 2021 in Geneva. The suspension of the intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines was a main topic of the cancelled World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial meeting. (Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

'No Profit on Covid!': Campaigners Worldwide Demand WTO End Vaccine Apartheid

"We don't need travel bans—we need global solidarity."

Andrea Germanos

Public health and social justice advocates mobilized worldwide Tuesday to demand wealthy nations support vaccine equity by immediately dropping opposition to a proposed patent waiver for live-saving Covid-19 vaccines.

"No one is safe until all of us are safe."

Likening the few nations still opposing the TRIPS waiver at the World Trade Organization to "clients of Big Pharmaceutical corporations," Deborah James of the Our World is Not for Sale global network said that "the WTO's rules literally protect billionaires' ability to become multi-billionaires on the backs of millions of people who are dying."

James—who added that "vaccine apartheidists have blood on their hands"—was among those speaking Tuesday at a "No Profit on Covid" press conference in Geneva, which included lawmakers, union representatives, and other civil society organizations.

The groups in Geneva also staged an action outside the WTO using empty chairs to form the number 10,000 as a way to symbolize Covid-19's global daily death toll.

The conference attendees also heard from Fatima Hassan of the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa, who blasted the administration of booster shots in high-income nations while many in the Global South "are waiting for shot 1."

Hassan also criticized the travel bans that erupted after scientists in her country first detected the new Omicron variant, which has been found in over a dozen countries and led to the postponement of the WTO's ministerial conference which was to have begun Tuesday.

"It took only a few hours to shut down the world economy because of a variant," said Hassan, "but for more than a year, the countries in the rich North will not take on the pharma industry. As a person who grew up under apartheid, this is vaccine apartheid."

She further warned that more variants will emerge "if we do not scale up production for the world" and urged the waiver holdouts—which include the European Union (EU), the United Kingdom, and Switzerland—to "stop messing with our lives."

"Pass this waiver right away," said Hassan. "We don't need travel bans—we need global solidarity."

The action in Switzerland was among a number of demonstrations taking place Tuesday that focused on the need for the temporary waiver of intellectual property protections on Covid-19 related technologies to enable greater production of vaccines that have thus far been largely hoarded by rich nations.

First put forth over a year ago by India and South Africa, the waiver proposal is endorsed by over 100 countries, including a majority of WTO member nations, as well as Nobel laureates, former heads of state, global civil society organizations, and millions of workers.

"The WTO [meeting] might have been canceled, but the fight for fair access to Covid-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments is only growing stronger," the People's Vaccine Alliance tweeted Tuesday. "Activists around the world are out in force today calling for a #TRIPSwaiver."

The actions came a day after 27 United Nations rights experts said the WTO's postponement of its conference for this week "confirms the urgent need to take collective action to address vaccine inequality."

Nations must "use all available means to facilitate faster and more equal access to vaccines worldwide," they said, "including through the lifting of the WTO's rules on IP protection related to Covid-19 technologies."

"No one is safe until all of us are safe," they added.

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