Ahead of the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation in June, the Peoples Vaccine Alliance Ireland are organising a two hour online conference on 2 June (10am-12pm) to call for an agreement for a waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics (TRIPS waiver).
The TRIPS waiver would facilitate the local generic production of COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments in low and middle-income countries and has been opposed by the Irish Government and the pharmaceutical industry to date.
The conference aims to highlight the impacts of COVID-19 and the solutions for ensuring vaccine equity, particularly an intellectual property waiver.
Speakers will include Senator Alice-Mary Higgins leader of The Civil Engagement Group in Seanad Éireann, Dr. Luke McDonagh Assistant Professor at the London School of Economics, Diarmaid McDonald founder of Just Treatment and Candice Sehoma Medecins Sans Frontiers’ Access Campaign Advocacy Coordinator.
The fairest and most effective way to end this pandemic is to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments. But pharmaceutical company monopolies could leave countries in the global south waiting until 2023 for widespread vaccination. This leaves us all in danger from new variants which may make current vaccines ineffective.
People around the world are calling for a #PeoplesVaccine – freely available to everyone, everywhere. Join them!
Restricting vaccine supply to protect profits during a pandemic will cost countless lives. The more the virus is left to circulate, the greater the chance of new variants emerging and our current vaccines becoming ineffective.
This is unacceptable and threatens us all: no-one is safe until everyone is safe.
We can address vaccine inequity by temporarily waiving intellectual property rights to vaccines and by encouraging pharmaceutical companies to share their know-how, so that the manufacture of vaccines can be scaled up to meet demand.
Call on the Irish government now to take a stand for fairness, equality and global health. Sign this petition now.
On the 8 July 2021 we marked the official launch of our national campaign for a People’s Vaccine with over 300 guests.
A recording of the event and clips of our guest speakers are available now. So make sure you share the important insight and messages our guest speakers, including Dr. Mike Ryan from the WHO and Winnie Byanyima from UNAIDS, shared at our launch.
Read more about our launch event guest speakers here.
Habiba Maalim, who works as a nurse in Trócaire's hospitals in Gedo, Southern Somalia, said it’s not right that healthy young people in wealthier countries will be vaccinated before vulnerable people in poorer countries like Somalia.
While Ireland is emerging from lockdown, with 90 per cent of people over 16 fully vaccinated, Ms Maalim said that only 1.5% of the population of over 17 million people are fully vaccinated in Somalia.
Ms Maalim said Trócaire is the main vaccinator in Gedo region, an area slightly bigger than Ireland, that has been affected by decades of conflict, drought and hunger. Trócaire runs five district hospitals in the area and is overseeing the storage and administration of vaccines, as well as Covid and PCR testing.
The Trócaire team of doctors and healthcare workers support 19,000 people each month. When one staff member has to quarantine, this can affect thousands of people. At one point we had eight nurses from the same hospital who all had to self-isolate at the same time. It is hard to keep the hospitals open when that happens,” Ms Maalim said.
“Thankfully the first vaccines have just arrived in Somalia, with 300,000 doses to be rolled out soon to vulnerable groups. This is a good start and gives us hope, but we still don’t know when the vaccine will be widely distributed among Somalia’s 17 million people. It could take years. I don’t think it’s fair how vaccines are being distributed unequally across our world.”
Ms Maalim called on the international community to step up and ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines across the world.
“It is not fair for Somalia to be at the back of the queue. If the World Trade Organisation waived intellectual property rights, then countries like India and Brazil could ramp up manufacturing of generic Covid vaccines.”
“That way all countries could get access to supplies more quickly, rich countries wouldn’t have to fight each other for what’s available, and poor countries wouldn’t have to sit waiting for the scraps.”
“I will be so happy the day I see my team of nurses receive their vaccines, and even happier when vaccines reach all of the people of Somalia. For now, there’s much to be done, so I will continue to do my work. I am so grateful to the people of Ireland that they have provided so much support and solidarity to Somalia over the years.”
TO SAY that the last 17 months have been very emotional is an understatement. I have publicly spoken about grieving the loss of my father and not being able to mourn with my loved ones who are an ocean away.
I do not particularly enjoy publicly displaying grief, but vaccine inequality and fear of losing more loved ones before I get to see them again leave me with no other choice. Apparently, I am a vaccine activist, but I am only doing what I think most people would do if they were in my shoes.
The vast majority of people in Ireland understand the importance of the Covid-19 vaccine. This is reflected by the impressive uptake of the vaccine. We were all very proud of young people queuing patiently to access vaccines and protect themselves and others.
Children from age 12 are now able to get vaccinated too; a relief, especially for children with health conditions that put them at higher risk of severe illness from Covid-19.
But as I see younger people and children in Ireland accessing safe and effective vaccines, I hear even talk of boosters, I feel a degree of frustration and anger.
I have nephews and nieces I love very much, who, because of where they live, may not be able to access vaccines for a few more years.
Many young people and children in the Global South are suffering immensely because of Covid-19. Recently, The Lancet published its findings on the wider impact of Covid-19 on families across the globe. It is estimated 1,134,000 children have lost a primary caregiver, including at least one parent or custodial parent.
In many places in the Global South, healthcare and frontline workers and people who are at very high risk of illness and death from Covid-19 are still waiting to access vaccines. Children are dying of Covid-19.
About 1.5 million children have lost family members or caregivers due to Covid-19 Children are losing parents and loved ones who care for them to Covid-19. This will continue until everyone everywhere can access vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics. How can we, in Ireland, turn our backs to this suffering and go back to “normal”?
For months, I have been writing to my local TDs, including the Taoiseach, begging the Government to voice its support for the Trips waiver. Trips waivers were designed as a ‘break in case of emergency’-type response. If this global pandemic is not an emergency worthy of breaking the glass, then what is?
I have been waiting for months to hear from the Taoiseach on whether his Government will support the Trips waiver. Nothing. Publicly, he has spoken about how many vaccines Europe is exporting. What the Taoiseach is not saying is that Europe is exporting vaccines because it continues to oppose vaccines being produced in other parts of the world.
The Government’s silence regarding the Trips waiver, especially considering its current seat in the UN Security Council, is deafening and nothing short of scandalous. Every day of silence allows global vaccine inequality to worsen, every day of delay means more lives lost to Covid-19.
Those lives are not just numbers, each of them is a person. Each of them is someone’s loved one, someone’s mother or child, someone’s friend. Someone’s nephew. Someone’s niece.
Recently, members of the Government proudly shared the news that the Irish people had donated over 1m Covid-19 vaccines to people in the Global South through Unicef’s Get a Vaccine Give a Vaccine campaign.
This is incredible news, illustrating the generosity of the Irish people. But, the reality is that donations are not enough, the issue has been and continues to be supply of vaccines.
There needs to be mass production in the Global South for the Global South. Unicef is leading a vaccine procurement and supply operation as part of the Covax facility. Covax has been struggling to get enough supply of the vaccine, due to Global North countries stockpiling vaccines while simultaneously blocking the Trips waiver.
The outpouring of support of people in Ireland shows us, once again, that the people are ahead of the Government and that we understand the need for global solidarity. We now need the Government to support the Trips waiver and walk its talk.
Charity will not fix the problem of vaccine inequality, we must demand vaccine equity. I am, once again, asking the Government to stand for what is right. I am also asking the people of Ireland to demand the same and support this ask for a People’s Vaccine so that everyone, everywhere can access vaccines.Majo Rivas is Paraguayan-Irish and lives in Cork. A longer version of this article was originally published in the Examiner.
Members of the People's Vaccine Alliance Ireland include: Access to Medicines Ireland, ACET, Action Aid Ireland, Amnesty International Ireland, AMRI, CBM Ireland, Centre for Global Education , Christian Aid Ireland, Comhlamh, Doctors for Vaccine Equity, Friends of the Earth Ireland,GOAL, Gorey Malawi Health Partnership, ICCL, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Irish General Practice Nurses Educational Association, Irish Global Health Network, Irish National Teachers' Organisation, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, Misean Cara, Oxfam Ireland, Plan International Ireland, Polio Survivors Ireland, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Trinity Centre for Global Health, Trócaire, Voluntary Service International, 80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World
Well, the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?
Pharmaceutical corporations use patents and other intellectual property rights to stop other companies from making the vaccines or medicines they have developed. We are saying that in these unprecedented times, companies should share their knowledge and not enforce intellectual property rights in the interests of public health.
But intellectual property is not the only barrier. Vaccines are not as straightforward as many other medicines to copy and many are made of biological material. Therefore, it is important that corporations and research institutions also share the know-how, biological material and technology behind their vaccine with other companies that could manufacture them. We have seen some bilateral examples of this. For example, Astra Zeneca has licensed production to companies in India, Brazil and in Argentina. However, this process should not be left to the goodwill of individual corporations or subject to secretive deals. The WHO COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) provides a global mechanism for such sharing. The C-TAP can promote technology transfer and the licensing of production to more companies and institutions that are able to manufacture safe and effective vaccines in order to maximise supply.
This is simply not true. Experienced vaccine manufacturers who are willing to make hundreds of millions of doses have come forward from all over the world to say they are ready to produce if intellectual property barriers were removed and the vaccine recipe and know-how shared.
COVAX is an advanced procurement and distribution programme which aims to secure access for poorer countries. While it is encouraging that at least 170 countries have agreed to work together under COVAX, this programme does not aim to increase vaccine manufacturing capacity and has fallen considerable short of its modest target to vaccinate 30% adult population because the extra vaccines simply are not there, due to artificial constraints on expanding manufacturing capacity.
The science is clear: The fairest and most effective way to end this pandemic is to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Global access to COVID-19 vaccines is also in our self-interest as ongoing outbreaks anywhere mean greater risk of new variants developing against which our vaccines may not be effective.
There simply is no way to defeat COVID-19 in Ireland without united action worldwide. But pharmaceutical company monopolies could leave countries in the global south waiting until 2023 for widespread vaccination and this is where we would ask for your support.
In order to produce sufficient vaccines for everyone globally, we need to greatly increase manufacturing capacity and all suitably qualified vaccine manufacturers must be permitted to produce vaccines free from patents and pharmaceutical companies must agree to share their know-how. We need a People’s Vaccine.