Leaders must act for vaccine equality

As an international social change network, we are appalled to witness that those in the ‘Global South‘ continue to confront the crude reality of long standing international injustices in access to vaccines, amidst surging COVID19 infections.

Countries and pharmaceutical industries in the ‘Global North’ continue to impede the TRIPS waiver on vaccine patents. The TRIPS waiver would remove barriers to the diversification of vaccine production and other life-saving medical products. It is outrageous and shameful that in order to protect the profits of a small global elite, the current TRIPS arrangements are costing lives – especially in the ‘Global South’.

We acknowledge the turning tide of support from ‘Global North’ countries for the TRIPS waiver. Yet the waiver alone will not address the urgent need for vaccine production. It must also be accompanied by the release of the intellectual property, to give other producers the knowledge and tools they need to supply countries with the vaccine. Without the release of intellectual property, there could be years of lag time towards the reverse engineering of vaccine formulations.

In Geneva on June 8-9 the World Trade Organization (WTO) Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Council) took place, centering a discussion by G20 governments on the revised request for a TRIPS Waiver (IP/C/W/669/Rev.1), presented by the governments of South Africa and India to the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights of the World Trade Organization, with many countries in support. TRIPS Council on Wednesday agreed with consensus to start text-based negotiations on a proposal seeking patent waivers to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. We see this as an important step forward.

MenEngage Alliance stands in solidarity with the feminist and social justice networks demanding equitable access to vaccines for all, and we support the #Fem4PeoplesVaccine campaign.

At the roots of global vaccine inequality are systemic unequal power-dynamics, rooted in racist colonial ideologies, systems and structures. As colleagues at CREA and others have called it, we are in the midst of a ‘vaccine apartheid’. This pattern is fueled by extractive neoliberal capitalist paradigms that seek to capitalize on the devastation that the pandemic has fueled, and on the suffering of humans.

We acknowledge the staggering complexity with which this situation is playing out globally and the existing multitude of positionalities when seeking to stand in solidarity around this issue. However, we collectively seek to advance joint advocacy and call for vaccine justice, improved public health, Universal Health Coverage for all, State accountability, as well as accountability by the international multilateral community and the private and philanthropic sector.

We applaud the steps from the countries, including South Africa and India together with others, who have initiated and supported the waiver and who are disseminating surpluses of vaccine doses to other countries, albeit insufficient to address global population needs. However, this is not enough, until all people are able to access and receive vaccines worldwide. We call upon all States to act responsibly and support the TRIPS waiver immediately so as to ensure everyone-everywhere has access to the lifesaving vaccine.

These issues are complex. They involve international trade agreements, involving regional and national contexts and realities. Yet, we must not let this dissuade us from centering the full humanity of all people. We must seek ways to work across movements, social change networks, and organizations to find meaningful pathways towards our joint solidarity, partnership and action.

We take a moment to thank and acknowledge those of you who are involved in mobilizing to support your community and dear ones at this moment of crisis that we are facing at the moment.

Photo credit: Anna Shvets, Pexels

03 August 2021