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4 Reasons why waiving TRIPS is the best way to beat Covid19

Vaccines must be accessible to everyone, everywhere. There is only one way to turn words into reality: support the TRIPS Agreement waiver. A difficult name, for an easy solution: sharing technology and knowledge to boost the production of vaccines. 

What is the TRIPS Agreement? TRIPS literally stands for Trade Related aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. But this doesn’t help much. To better understand, we have to take a step back. The agreement was signed by the Member States of the WTO, the World Trade Organization to protect intellectual property rights. What has this got to do with vaccines? Everything. Intellectual property rights, such as patents and trade secrets create monopolies that give a handful of companies exclusive production, use and sale rights. If private companies have the monopoly on Covid-19 vaccines, we won’t be able to defeat the virus. 

Access to life-saving medicines cannot be in the hands of private companies. South Africa, India and 100 other countries are asking the WTO for a temporary waiver of the TRIPS Agreement. But the European Commission is blocking this request. We need to raise our voices loud so that the Commission changes its position. 

Here are four reasons to join the fight to make Covid-19 vaccines a global common good accessible to everyone everywhere.   

 

1. SHARING IS CARING  – We are facing a vaccine shortage. If we have the chance to produce more, we should definitely do it! 

It’s been a year now since Covid-19 appeared in Europe, and our lives have turned upside down, with restrictions and loss that go beyond what we could have ever imagined. People across the world placed their hope in the development and roll out of vaccines: now we have them, but only the 0,7% of the world population has been fully vaccinated (as of 2nd March 2021, data from https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations). Are we doing everything that is possible? No. Today we use only 43% of the existing vaccine production capacity worldwide. With patents limiting the sharing of technology, the production of vaccines will never be enough. History is with us on this: both Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin, inventors of vaccines, decided not to patent their discovery. This is how we defeated polio: by sharing knowledge. 

 

2. OUR VACCINES, OUR MONEY – and your profit? 

It is not thanks to patents and trade secrets that private companies have been able to develop vaccines. If it weren’t for public funding, companies would have never been able to support such important research. The European Union alone put €1.5 billion into BigPharma’s coffers. This is not a gift. Public money was spent to find a solution that can, and must, benefit everyone. Yet, the ones making the decision are BigPharma companies. According to the agreements signed between the European Commission and the pharmaceutical companies, it is up to the latter to determine the prices and to increase them once “the pandemic is over”. Who will decide when that time has come? The pharmaceutical companies, of course. If that’s not enough, take a look at these figures: Pfizer expects an additional $15 billion in revenues and the CEO of AstraZeneca has just received a cheque for $21.5 million. 

 

3. SELF INTEREST –  “No one is safe, until everyone is safe”, remember?

The vaccination efforts made in Europe will be completely useless if the rest of the world doesn’t get access to vaccines. An Oxfam release flags that 13% of the world population living in the developed countries cornered 51% of the vaccines. This is not only unfair, it is dangerous. While, at the current pace, Europe can reach widespread vaccination coverage by 2021, the global South will only achieve this from early 2023 onward.  We do not live in an isolated bubble. This can give rise to a range of mutations of the virus, plunging all of us back to square one.

 

4. THE ULTIMATE REASON – Health is a right, not a commodity. 

For too long, private interests have been placed above people’s lives. The outbreak of Covid-19 has shown us the fragilities of our system, we learned it the hard way. We lost loved ones because the hospital facilities weren’t properly equipped, we mourned in solitude, we stayed in our homes to prevent the circulation of the virus, we are risking our lives because we can’t risk our jobs and we are risking our jobs because we are competing against each other. 

The Left in the European Parliament is fighting for global access to Covid-19 vaccines and medicines. We support the waiver of the TRIPS Agreement for one simple reason: we believe that health is a right, not a commodity.