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For Immediate Release

Contact

Derrick Robinson, drobinson@citizen.org 

Press Release

"EU, Quit Being Big Pharma’s Puppet," Say U.S. Members of Congress and Civil Society Groups at EU D.C. HQ Protest

German opposition to WTO Covid-19 IP waiver pits EU against Biden-Harris administration and rest of the world, threatens to prolong pandemic.
WASHINGTON -

Members of Congress, and human rights, health, faith and labor leaders descended on the European Union delegation headquarters in D.C. to urge the EU, and in particular Germany, to end their dangerous opposition to the COVID-19 emergency waiver of WTO intellectual property barriers so more vaccines and treatments can be produced worldwide.

Speakers at the vibrant protest and press conference called on the EU to stop blocking the 130+ WTO countries trying to secure the waiver and instead engage in good-faith negotiations to achieve a comprehensive TRIPS waiver quickly so that greater supplies of vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests can be produced in as many countries as possible, as quickly as possible, to end the global pandemic. They called out the EU’s TRIPS submission as an attempt to distract and delay without offering anything new.

Protesters chanted “Hey EU, it’s obscene to stop the waiver and block vaccine!” as an enormous papier-mâché Angela Merkel puppet colluded with a pharma “corporate fat cat” to deny healthcare workers gigantic vaccine syringes. 

Today’s event was the latest example of growing U.S. pressure directed toward the EU, which has become increasingly isolated in its opposition to the waiver. In recent weeks, waiver advocates have held vigils across the U.S. at German consulates, reading the names of loved ones lost to COVID-19. Earlier this week, more than 130 U.S. civil society organizations called on President Joe Biden to use all available diplomatic means to persuade the European Union to negotiate on the TRIPS waiver in good faith. Absent speedy agreement on a waiver that is long-lasting and comprehensive — so that people worldwide have access to COVID-19 vaccines, as well as diagnostic tests and treatments — no one in any country is safe, the groups wrote.

Photos and video available here.

Civil society groups are planning more demonstrations against vaccine apartheid nationwide at over a dozen German consular offices in the days leading up to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the U.S. and in D.C. during her visit — unless Germany has relented on its opposition to the waiver. More than 130 countries, parliamentarians and citizens worldwide want agreement on a waiver at the next WTO General Council, on July 26, if Germany and the EU would just get out of the way of this critical step toward ending the pandemic.

Statements From Speakers:

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.): 

With the deadly Delta variant spreading rapidly, both here and abroad, the stakes couldn't be higher. It’s quickly becoming the dominant strain in the US and more will be coming if other countries don’t get vaccinated because the virus will continue mutating. We need shots in arms all over the world in order for the global economy to ever return to normal. And that is precisely why we need the TRIPS waiver so badly. We are calling on our European friends to stand with us, against Big Pharma, and support the waiver so we can ensure vaccine equity throughout the world. Currently, just 0.8% of people living in low-income countries have so far received a vaccine, compared with 20.9% of people globally, according to the New York Times interactive graphic, which sources data from local governments. Enough with the excuses, EU, let’s get this done. Countries can’t afford to be locked down back and forth forever. We must get this under control, and donated vaccines are nice and appreciated, but it’s not fast enough.

U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.):

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 saw in India… part of the reason it was awful is because there was no provision to vaccinate the world... What’s happened in India could happen anywhere. We’re still not out of the woods… 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.

U.S. Rep. Jesús G. “Chuy” García (D-Ill.):

A global recovery requires a global response based on health needs – not big pharma. 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 EU to stop blocking this commonsense measure that saves lives.

Sara Nelson, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, International President

Flight attendants need to live and we need to work, just like all the people we connect around the world in transportation on our airplanes, buses and trains. Shame on Germany and the EU for blocking a worldwide mobilization of vaccine production and distribution. As long as the virus lives anywhere our lives and livelihoods are in jeopardy. TRIPS waiver now.

Abby Maxman, Oxfam America, President:

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 EU must do the right thing or get out of the way. Chancellor Merkel must decide to put people over profits. We need a people’s vaccine now.

Paul O’Brien, Amnesty International USA, Executive Director:

Our world has been torn apart between vaccine haves and have-nots during this pandemic. We have the technology and resources to manufacture and distribute the 10-15 billion vaccines the world needs and the EU and some of its member states are blocking it to protect the private intellectual property power of pharma corporations. That is not just wrong-headed; it’s not just going to prolong the pandemic, creating the space and time for new variants to hurt us all.  It is going to divide our world even more between the haves and have-nots and may unleash a catastrophic upsurge in the denial of human rights for those who already face too much discrimination as the most vulnerable lives are lost, health systems for the have-nots are overwhelmed, protests are repressed as we see in Colombia, and economic inequality grows.  If Europe cares about strengthening human rights globally, this may be the most important decision they can make today just by ending their resistance to sharing the vaccine recipe. 

Pauline Muchina, American Friends Service Committee, Public Education & Advocacy Coordinator (PEAC) for the Africa Region:

As an African woman, I have joined other women of the world to cheer for Angela Merkel’s leadership. Today, we call on Chancellor Merkel to remember the women of the world and their families and don’t let us down by refusing to approve the TRIPS waiver.  Help us save billions of lives through the mass production of COVID-19 vaccines. To the leaders blocking the TRIPS waiver, act now and save lives. We don’t need late apologies that are empty words. You have the opportunity to save lives now, and prevent a catastrophe. Stop vaccine apartheid.

Reverend Amy Reumann, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Senior Director for Witness in Society

As Lutherans, we believe that caring for the health of others expresses both love for neighbor and responsibility for a just society. Ensuring access to healthcare tools such as vaccines and treatments is a social responsibility, and therefore, we must treat this global pandemic as such.

Lori Wallach, Public Citizen, Director of Global Trade Watch:

Germany has steered the European Union into the outrageous position of stopping a critical public health initiative the rest of the world demands to save lives and livelihoods in face of the unprecedented COVID threat. The EU’s opposition is Trump-level cynical given EU officials say COVID vaccines should be a universal common good and that no one is safe unless everyone is while acting as Big Pharma’s puppet at the WTO with tactics to delay and derail a waiver of WTO IP barriers the rest of the world supports.

Matthew Rose, Health GAP (Global Access Project), Director of U.S. Policy and Advocacy:

The European Commission must end its deadly opposition to the TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments. By continuing to block the waiver that is supported by more than 100 countries representing billions of people, the EU is standing on the side of Big Pharma and vaccine apartheid and is extending the pandemic, causing more suffering and death for those left waiting for access to the life-saving vaccines that are increasingly available on-demand in rich countries.

Statements From Participating Organizations:

Arthur Stamoulis, Citizens Trade Campaign, Executive Director

Over 130 U.S. civil society groups across a wide range of sectors called on President Biden this week to use all available diplomatic means to persuade the European Union to negotiate on the TRIPS waiver in good faith. Every day the EU continues to obstruct a fast and comprehensive final agreement 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 for everyone.  Activists across the United States are already planning demonstrations at German consulates during Chancellor Merkel’s upcoming visit.  Too many lives are at stake to allow her government to drag out the waiver talks forever.

Tulika Singh PhD, Right to Health Action, Fundraising Lead

After 19 agonizing days in a crowded hospital in India, my grandmother died of COVID-19. Thinking about her last moments in isolation haunts me. I am afraid for the health of my 89-year old grandfather, who continues to be at high-risk of COVID-19. We simply cannot afford to delay life-saving vaccines and allow this virus to take more lives. Without action from the EU to support a comprehensive TRIPS waiver, people will not get the vaccine till 2024. None of our family members are safe until everyone has the vaccine. We have the choice to control this pandemic and save millions of lives if the EU acts now.

Julie Steendam, European Citizens' Initiative No Profit on Pandemic, Coordinator

Internal pressure on the European Commission is rising: already 205.000 European citizens have signed the official legislative petition No Profit on Pandemic, and the European Parliament has voted in favour of the patent waiver. And also from the outside they become isolated, when Americans start protesting at EU offices. It’s time for Europe to show which interests they defend: private profits or people’s safety.

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Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people – not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.

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