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As WTO slow-walks vaccines’ TRIPS waiver, action is needed

Register now for West Coast TRIPS Action Conference on Sept. 11


Special to The Stand

(Aug. 25, 2021) — On May 5, the Biden administration announced support for freeing the vaccine intellectual property so that global south countries could make generic vaccines for their populations — a process at the World Trade Organization (WTO) formally known as waiving the trade-related aspects of intellectual property (TRIPS).

Due in part to the lobbying power of 100 pharma lobbyists, since that date very little has moved at the WTO, and the need for the waiver has grown exponentially. Prior to the announcement that the U.S. and Europe would encourage their populations to receive a COVID-19 booster shot, the world needed roughly 14 billion doses of the vaccine. With that announcement, the world needs anywhere from 18-20 billion doses. We weren’t on track to hit the former until 2024, and increased need without increased manufacturing just moves the date back.

TAKE A STAND — Join the Washington Fair Trade Coalition and community partners up and down the West Coast on Saturday, Sept. 11 from 10 a.m. to noon for the West Coast TRIPS Action Conference, which will feature voices from all over the world about the urgency of securing the TRIPS waiver at the WTO, and provide space to plan for the campaign’s next steps. (See the Facebook event page for details or go ahead and register for this Zoom event.)

While the U.S. and European Union have been able to vaccinate huge swaths of their populations, only 1 percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated. Johnson & Johnson established a facility in South Africa in recent weeks to fill and finish vaccine orders meant for Africa; however, In light of the booster announcements, Johnson and Johnson’s South Africa hub is now re-routing its vaccine doses to Europe, where the company will receive higher reimbursement.

Though it didn’t originate in the United States, the Delta variant is circulating through our communities now, pushing Intensive Care Units across the country to the brink. We hear everyday that Lambda, Epsilon, and more will follow. In the words of Larry Brilliant, a former WHO epidemiologist, “we have not run out of Greek letters so there may be more to come.” Our health is tied to the health of people in the global south. COVID-19 in any country is capable of mutating into a variant that threatens lives here, too.

Despite the lack of action at the WTO, with the Intellectual Property waiver, technology transfer, and full funding to retool old factories and establish new ones to do COVID-19 vaccines, we could be producing billions more doses per year.

The Biden administration needs to put forward a vaccination plan that includes those three steps — waiving vaccine intellectual property, technology transfer, and full funding — and push for that plan at the WTO or we risk spending years longer chasing down variants, virtual schooling our kids, working from home, being separated from loved ones.

AT the Sept. 11 West Coast TRIPS Action Conference, we’ll hear from speakers Achal Prabhala and Matthew Rose about the landscape around freeing the vaccine globally and in the United States. We’ll hear from several global south organizers about what it’s like on the ground in their countries. Then, we’ll spend time in state-based breakout rooms planning next steps to secure the TRIPS waiver.

We CAN manufacture enough vaccines to keep kids in school, ensure a vaccine supply for countries that desperately need them, and give boosters to everyone the world over. What we lack right now, is the political will. Join us on Sept. 11 to plan the next steps toward freeing the vaccine and putting an end to the global pandemic.

Hillary Haden is Executive Director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition.

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