The Director General of World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, launched the #VaccinEquity for health workers campaign earlier this week, with a “Covid-19 Vaccine Equity Declaration” as part of activities to mark 2021 as the Year of Health and Care Workers. The declaration which calls for acceleration of the rollout of vaccines in an equitable manner to ensure all health workers in every country are vaccinated within the first 100 days of the year is a welcome development.
The pandemic, as everybody including world leaders have said time and again, has reflected and deepened health and social inequities between and within countries. One of the most graphic expressions of this is what has been correctly described as “vaccine apartheid”.
Civil society and trade unions from the Global South are calling on rich countries’ leaders to stop blocking a proposal to waive vaccine patents.
Monopoly patents or vaccines for all?
Also, during the week, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres voiced alarm at the dangers of inequitable distribution of the vaccines, echoing an earlier statement by the WHO Director General that 75% of all doses administered thus far by mid-February were in just 10 countries, while 130 countries had not been able to administer a single dose to anybody, by the beginning of February. Little has changed since then.
Dr Ghebreyesus has stressed the importance of the #VaccinEquity campaign, calling for this to be made “the greatest mass mobilisation in history”. At the heart of the strategy for fulfilling this call of action by the WHO is the Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facility of the Access to Covid-19 Technologies Accelerator (ACT-Accelerator), which was established by the 73rd World Health Assembly last May.
COVAX does have an important role to play in correcting the current vaccine injustice. The facility which is made up of more than 190 countries has already secured 2 billion doses of vaccines which will be rolled out before the end of the month. The related Covid-19 technology access pool (C-TAP) is also an international mechanism which now serves as a reservoir of know-how that could be used to scale up manufacturing and rollout of vaccines quickly and equitably.
But for-profit interest of big pharmaceutical companies who assert their intellectual property rights remains an obstacle to ensuring everybody everywhere can be vaccinated free of charge. WHO has called on vaccine manufacturers to “share know-how with C-TAP to scale up vaccine manufacturing and dramatically increase the global supply of vaccines for the coming years.”
While this step which appeals to the moral conscience of profiteers might have won some concessions, this is quite limited. What health workers and indeed billions of people in the Global South need right now is waiver of all intellectual property rights to Covid-19 vaccines and medical products. The demand for “health before wealth” must be clearly made, and we must insist on this as a key element of rebuilding the world in the wake of the pandemic.
PSI as a voice of workers in the Peoples Vaccine Alliance, and its allies have thus called on governments across the world to endorse the call for the waiver of Covid-19 trade-related intellectual property rights in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
It is not enough for governments to applaud health workers, who have been on the frontline of the pandemic response. This is the time to match words and claps with action. There is no time to lose!
We thus urge all unions, civil society organisations, community-based associations, and all women and men of good conscience to take a stand now. We must put people before profit and mobilise for the #PeoplesVaccine to win #VaccinEquity.
You can take action to in this struggle. You must take action for us to win. Sign the Declaration for #VaccinEquity and write to the government of your country today, using the PSI model letter to demand a waiver of the WTO copyrights on COVID-19 vaccines and medical products today.
Ahead of critical talks at the World Trade Organization (WTO) civil society and trade unions from the Global South are calling on rich countries’ leaders to stop blocking a proposal to waive certain intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines and other medical products. Join the Twitter action!