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TRIPS waiver

Activists demonstrate in favor of an agreement to waive patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines on in Geneva on November 30, 2021 in Geneva. (Phot: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

Candlelit Vigil Will Press Biden to Deliver Covid-19 Vaccine Patent Waiver

"Advocates across the globe are calling for the WTO to urgently deliver a waiver that can help ensure that all countries are equipped with the tools needed to save lives and bring the pandemic under control."

Brett Wilkins

To mark the anniversary of the Biden administration's support for an Indian and South African proposal to temporarily waive patent protections on lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, activists on Wednesday geared up for a candlelit vigil outside the White House to urge President Joe Biden to do more to deliver the waiver and press Congress to increase funding for global inoculation efforts.

Following sustained international activist pressure, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced the Biden administration's support for a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO) last May 5.

"One year later, as President Biden and world leaders prepare for next week's Global Covid Summit, the WTO has failed to deliver this important waiver."

"Advocates across the globe are calling for the WTO to urgently deliver a waiver that can help ensure that all countries are equipped with the tools needed to save lives and bring the pandemic under control," the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, which is co-hositng the vigil, said in a statement.

Biden's move last year—which was welcomed as a "transformative, hopeful event" at the time—marked a departure from most rich countries' opposition to the waiver, which is backed by more than 100 mostly Global South nations.

However, as Public Citizen noted this week, "one year later, as President Biden and world leaders prepare for next week's Global Covid Summit, the WTO has failed to deliver this important waiver, pharmaceutical companies continue to refuse to share vaccine technology, and funding for the global Covid response is drying up—all while the pandemic rages across the globe."

According to Public Citizen:

The candlelight vigil will include a projector and oversized screen which will play videos from Be A Hero's Ady Barkan and other videos from health providers and public health experts from South Africa, India, and Chile. They will call on President Biden to secure a true [TRIPS] waiver that covers Covid-19 vaccines, testing, and treatments and demand that Congress pass funding to vaccinate the world and save lives.

Next week, Biden will co-host the Second Global Covid-19 Summit, a virtual gathering of world leaders to "build on the themes and commitments" of last year's conference, at which the president urged nations to work toward vaccinating 70% of the world's population within a year.

As of April, nearly 58% of the world's population, or around 4.4. billion people, had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. However, Global South nations had far lower inoculation rates. In 16 countries—13 of them in Sub-Saharan Africa—less than 10% of people were fully vaccinated, with rates as low as 1% in Haiti and less than one-tenth of 1% in Burundi.

The vigil comes as campaigners are rejecting the WTO's corporate-friendly alternate proposal to India and South Africa's TRIPS waiver. The WTO proposal, which was leaked in March, "not only fails to remove intellectual property barriers standing in the way of global access to Covid vaccines, tests, and treatments, it actually imposes some new ones," according to Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of the Trade Justice Education Fund.

In a statement issued Tuesday, People's Vaccine Alliance co-chair Max Lawson said that "the text as it stands continues to place pharmaceutical corporate interests over the needs of global health."

"WTO member states must urgently deliver a genuine intellectual property waiver that will turn the tide on global vaccine, test, and treatment inequality and make a difference in controlling this virus," asserted Lawson. "If WTO negotiations cannot deliver that after two years of a deadly pandemic, then we must admit that the institution is not fit for purpose."

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