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Protesters hoisted a large banner outside the White House calling on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to stop blocking an emergency waiver of intellectual property rules.

Protesters hoisted a large banner outside the White House calling on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to stop blocking an emergency waiver of intellectual property rules needed to increase global production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments that would help save millions of lives Tuesday, July 13, 2021 in Washington. (Photo: Eric Kayne/AP Images for People’s Vaccine Coalition)

President Biden, Please Persuade Chancellor Merkel to Support the WTO Waiver and Save Lives

This health crisis is now also a global justice crisis—a failure of humanity.

Fr. Charles Chilufya

President Joe Biden’s White House summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday will be an epic moral failure unless it ends Germany's blockage of an emergency World Trade Organization (WTO) waiver to facilitate greater production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments necessary to save millions of lives.

As the United States begins to return to normal thanks to widespread COVID-19 vaccination, only 0.3% of people in low-income countries have had their first shot. Only seven out of 54 African nations are on track to immunize even 10% of their people by September. As a result, the Delta variant is causing terrifying new waves of preventable death and sickness throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

"President Biden must move Chancellor Merkel and Germany, to have compassion, to have kindness and to prioritize human life. We believe he can do it."

Most Americans are unaware of this far more brutal COVID wave now wracking African countries from Kenya and Uganda to Zambia and Malawi, where most people have no protection or treatment. Germany's recent apology for its genocidal colonialism in Namibia, another hard-hit nation, makes it even more horrifying that Chancellor Merkel is the main obstacle to temporarily suspending pharmaceutical corporations' intellectual property monopoly controls so vaccine supplies can be scaled up and lives saved.

Vaccines are essential. In most of the developing world, we can't afford lockdowns. Most people obtain income in the informal sector. They don't have savings. If there are lockdown measures, it means people have no income to buy food or pay for water or electricity. Then they lose their housing. If people lock down, they will die. And if they do not, without vaccines, they will die.

This health crisis is now also a global justice crisis—a failure of humanity. Last week, COVAX, the agency distributing vaccines to poor countries, informed us that there are simply no vaccines. Maybe we can get a little bit in September.

Yet, the world could be producing vaccines far faster if a rich country, like Germany, had not put pharmaceutical industry interests first, at the expense of human life, and blocked the WTO Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) waiver.

With Germany pushing the European Union to blocking this initiative by more than 130 nations' to temporarily suspend Big Pharma monopolies so more vaccines can be made, vaccine factories are lying idle around the world, including in Africa.

If you were here, to see what is happening—lives lost, livelihoods falling apart—you wouldn't understand why anybody with any little bit of reason and compassion would block a waiver of monopoly powers that protect the profits of a few while letting many people die. Yet this is what Germany is doing.

I would like to recall how Angela Merkel, out of her compassion, responded to the refugee crisis a couple of years ago. We want her to go on to repeat such an act of humanity.

President Biden has the leverage to fix this. He can ask Angela Merkel to look toward those who are suffering in Africa, Latin America and in Asia, and join him in preventing unnecessary deaths.

"There is money to produce enough vaccines to protect everyone to ensure that no country must lock down, if only Germany stops prioritizing the profits of the pharmaceutical companies."

It's something that can be changed. Governments funded decades of research behind the medical miracles of the vaccines. There is money to produce enough vaccines to protect everyone to ensure that no country must lock down, if only Germany stops prioritizing the profits of the pharmaceutical companies.

America provided leadership by supporting the COVID medicine waiver and leading other rich countries to join the U.S. Now, President Biden must move Chancellor Merkel and Germany, to have compassion, to have kindness and to prioritize human life. We believe he can do it.

Indeed, unlocking Germany's blockage of the WTO TRIPS waiver is the most important thing that President Biden can achieve in his Merkel summit, because of the impact that freeing the vaccine could have on millions of people globally.

President Biden’s faith is a central part of his commitment to social justice. Our Catholic social teaching prioritizes over all else respect for the dignity of the human person. And I would like to appeal to my fellow Catholic, I would like to appeal to the president of America, to continue doing as he is doing, but even do more: Get Germany to do what should be done now, support the waiver, so that more medicines may be produced and may be availed to everyone, every country, and everywhere.

This is President Biden's moment for true global leadership.


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

Fr. Charles Chilufya

Father Charles Chilufya, Justice & Ecology Director at the Jesuit Conference of Africa & Madagascar.

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