No country can boost its way out of the pandemic.
The World Health Organization has said booster programmes are more likely to lengthen the pandemic rather than shorten it, as vaccine inequality means many countries have not yet hit their 40% vaccination target, while wealthier nations move on to offer booster jabs.
The WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said COVID would continue to mutate and spread through unvaccinated populations.
How do we achieve vaccine equity?
While a massive drive of technology transfer, capacity expansion and supply line coordination is needed to bring vaccine supply in line with global demand, it begins with one vital element: a waiver of patent protections for COVID-19 vaccines.
In a brilliant article entitled Why intellectual property and pandemics don’t mix” (brookings.edu, 3 June 2021), Brink Lindsey explains:
The basic patent bargain… is to pay for more innovation down the road with slower diffusion of innovation today.
In the context of a pandemic, that bargain is a bad one and should be rejected entirely. Here the imperative is to accelerate the diffusion of vaccines and other treatments, not slow it down.
100 countries support a patent waiver but Canada is not one of them — yet
Since October 2020 when India and South Africa made a joint submission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) seeking a waiver for patents on COVID-related vaccines (and other products), more and more countries have supported the request.
Bowing to domestic pressure and the wishes of more than 100 countries, the Biden Administration has also thrown its support behind waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines.
Yet Canada, Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom are still refusing to support a waiver of the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement in relation to COVID-19 vaccines. It was due to be discussed at the 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO) set for 30 November to 3 December 2021.
In what can only be described as a darkly ironic twist, the conference has been indefinitely postponed due to the emergence of the Omicron variant. However, talks over the waiver are apparently continuing at the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
Canada says it is “at the table” and “working towards pragmatic solutions.”
Legal action contemplated by citizens of holdout nations
In the meantime, human rights advocates from the four western holdouts are eyeing domestic legal action, arguing:
States have a collective responsibility to use all available means to facilitate faster access to vaccines, including by introducing a temporary waiver of relevant intellectual property rights under [TRIPS], to ensure that protection of patents concerning the vaccines does not become a barrier to the effective enjoyment of the right to health. [emphasis added]
Click here for the letter to Canada’s International Trade Minister, the Honourable Mary Ng.
In the view of Ceasefire.ca:
Canada being “at the table” and “working towards pragmatic solutions” is meaningless bafflegab at best, and insidious obstructionism at worst, when the only workable solution is a TRIPS waiver on COVID-19 vaccine patents, as the first step in a truly global vaccination drive.
We call on the Government of Canada to immediately declare its support for a TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccine patents, as a first vital step in ramping up global vaccine production and distribution.
Action by Canadians needed!
As the letter to Trade Minister Ng — from a wide range of Canadian public health and human rights organizations — makes clear, there is broad support for Canada to immediately convey to the WTO its support for the TRIPS waiver. But equally evident is the need for the government to hear from many more Canadians, to counter a massive, and so far, entirely successful, lobbying campaign by Big Pharma.
We urge you to email the Prime Minister: Pm@pm.gc.ca; firstname.lastname@example.org; his Chief of Staff Katie Telford: Katie.email@example.com; and the Minister of International Trade, Hon. Mary Ng: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And we ask you to copy the Opposition party leaders: Hon. Erin O’Toole: email@example.com; Hon. Yves-Francois Blanchet: Yves-Francois.Blanchet@parl.gc.ca; Hon. Jagmeet Singh: Jagmeet.Singh@parl.gc.ca; and Green Party M.P. Elizabeth May: firstname.lastname@example.org
And further to copy the International Trade critics: Randy Hoback: email@example.com, Simon-Pierre Savard-Tremblay: Simon-Pierre.Savard-Tremblay@parl.gc.ca; and Brian Masse: firstname.lastname@example.org
Don’t forget to copy your own Member of Parliament as well!
You might consider the following message:
We are all in this together. National action is simply insufficient in the face of a global pandemic. We therefore call on our government to immediately declare to the WTO its support for a patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, as the first step in a truly global vaccination campaign.
In upcoming blogs in 2022 we will examine the type of operational international solidarity we need to create to have a chance of staving off climate catastrophe.
IMPORTANT UPDATE ON BIDEN AND NO FIRST USE (NFU)
Let us state clearly that we do not believe that a first-use option is in the security interests of our countries or in the interests of NATO as a whole. We encourage you to take leadership on this issue and we pledge our support. – letter from NATO Parliamentarians to President Biden
We led off our 17 December 2021 blog with the need for the government of Canada to lend its support to President Biden’s effort to adopt a No First Use or “sole purpose” for American nuclear weapons, in the face of domestic opposition and some concerns within NATO countries.
Now NATO parliamentarians from Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Slovenia, Turkey and the United Kingdom have signed a letter to President Biden and leaders of the US Congress strongly supporting a No First Use of nuclear weapons policy.
Upcoming Events in 2022On 18 January 2022 from 10:00 to 11:30 am EST, the Rideau Institute, in cooperation with the Human Rights Research and Education Center, University of Ottawa and the Group of 78, will host a webinar to explore the legal and policy implications of non-UN-authorized economic sanctions, a policy tool that is increasingly favoured by Canada, other western states and regional organizations like the EU and the African Union.
Economic sanctions have become an increasingly favored tool of international relations over the last several decades, but they have also become increasingly controversial.
Speakers: Professor Craig Martin, inaugural RI Senior Fellow and author of the RI report Economic Sanctions Under International Law, a Guide for Canadian Policy, and EU sanctions expert Professor Clara Portela will be joined by moderator and RI President Peggy Mason for this timely discussion.
Click here to register on Eventbrite for this free event.
THIS IS OUR LAST BLOG OF 2021.
WE HOPE YOU HAVE A WONDERFUL AND COVID-SAFE HOLIDAY SEASON FILLED WITH PEACE AND JOY.
Photo credit: Government of Canada (Parliament Hill at Christmas).