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A coalition of healthcare advocacy organizations gathered outside Pfizer Worldwide Headquarters in Manhattan on March 11, 2020. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A coalition of healthcare advocacy organizations gathered outside Pfizer Worldwide Headquarters in Manhattan on March 11, 2020. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Suspending Vaccine Patents Is the Leadership the World Needs to End This Pandemic

Intellectual property rules are not sacrosanct; this is, after all, an unprecedented crisis.

Mary Robinson

When the coronavirus pandemic first erupted, there seemed a consensus among nations that there could be no national route out of a global pandemic. Since then, however, we have all too often seen political leaders turn away from the values of international co-operation and multilateralism.

President Biden is now considering a move that will help end the diplomatic crises over vaccines—and provide leadership that the world needs to end this pandemic.

Leaders across Western Europe must now urgently reconsider their opposition to this proposal too—and offer their full support.Biden is considering supporting a temporary waiver of the specific intellectual property rules on Covid-19 vaccines that are upholding vaccine monopolies and delaying or even preventing our world from making billions more safe and effective vaccines. Proposed by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation, the waiver already has the support of more than 100 countries worldwide.

Leaders across Western Europe must now urgently reconsider their opposition to this proposal too—and offer their full support.

A change of course is the right thing to do for the world and in the interests of citizens and governments across Western Europe.

It is women—who dominate the informal sectors most harshly hit by the pandemic and who do the lion’s share of increased unpaid care—who will disproportionately bear the burden of vaccine inequity. Until we act, girls across the globe will miss out on transformational educational opportunities. And entrenching these problems for years threatens to undo decades of progress tackling gender inequality.

We must also recognise that our response to this pandemic will test our ability to mobilise collectively and set a foundation for how we tackle the climate crisis. If European leaders are not willing to temporarily diverge from trade rules to end a pandemic, citizens will rightly ask how the international community can face up to the scale of action needed to save our planet.

Our current limits on vaccine production are artificial. Intellectual property rules are not sacrosanct; this is, after all, an unprecedented crisis. Vaccine donations and support to Covax are essential, but will not be sufficient to end this pandemic. We must produce doses far faster—unlocking vaccine manufacturing capacity particularly in the global South.

That is why I am joining more than 60 former world leaders, including Gordon Brown, Helen Clark and Juan Manuel Santos, in urging that we temporarily suspend those intellectual property rules that bind the manufacturing of each jab to the supply chain of an individual pharmaceutical company.

Together with insisting on technology transfer through the World Health Organisation, and investing strategically in distributed manufacturing across the globe, this is the surest, fastest, and safest way to end the Covid-19 pandemic

That President Biden is now considering supporting a patent waiver to help confront this crisis gives us great hope. But World Trade Organisation rules mean that countries like the UK, and members of the EU, must change their position too if this is to become a reality.

I ask President von der Leyen, the German chancellor Angela Merkel, President Macron, Boris Johnson and all of Europe’s leaders to put the collective right to safety for all ahead of everything else—and come together to end this pandemic.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson served as president of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and UN high commissioner for human rights from 1997 to 2002. She is a member of the Elders, and president of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice.

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