As the Conservative Party’s annual conference began, STOPAIDS and vaccine access campaigners projected a message onto the One Manchester Tower, meters from the conference: “Boris Johnson, waive vaccine patents and vaccinate the world”. 10,000 people are dying every day while the UK government disrupts efforts to allow low and middle income countries to produce their own vaccines and save lives.
This message came as the world marked one year that the UK has blocked attempts to waive intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). A shocking 3.5 million people have died from COVID-19 while the UK has blocked the waiver. India and South Africa first proposed the waiver on 2 October 2020, which would remove patent and trade secret barriers allowing more manufacturers to begin producing COVID-19 tools without fear of infringing on big pharmaceutical companies’ intellectual property rights. After receiving near-unanimous support from low- and middle-income countries, the United States threw its weight behind the Waiver in May 2021, while Australia announced its support last month. Germany has forced EU opposition to the Waiver, despite support from countries including France. But with post-election coalition talks likely to bring a change in government in Germany, the UK could be the last opponent to the Waiver at the WTO.
Campaigners are calling for the government to stop opposing the waiver. They also want the government to ensure pharmaceutical companies share their vaccine technology and know-how with the World Health Organisation, so that other manufacturers can produce Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.
Just 1% of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated. Many countries are left waiting for donations while rich countries roll out third jabs to their already fully vaccinated populations. 3 million people globally have signed petitions calling for a ‘people’s vaccine’, yet the UK government has failed to listen.
The UK and other rich country governments are failing to exert influence over pharmaceutical companies to share critical technology and know-how to enable independent, wide-scale vaccine production by capable companies in developing countries.
The People’s Vaccine alliance have outlined clear instructions for the Prime Minister: share vaccine technology and ensure pharmaceutical companies do the same; waive intellectual property rights; and reallocate vaccine doses immediately. As two large eyes peered down over Manchester central convention complex, there was no mistaking the message that the world is watching, and waiting.