Global Justice Now's 'Day of Shame' protest calling for the suspension of Covid-19 vaccine patents (photo: © Jess Hurd)

Nick Dearden says Britain must follow US in agreeing a patent waiver

Recently, Global Justice Now carried coffins down Whitehall to highlight global Covid-19 deaths as UK entered make-or-break talks aimed to boost global vaccinations.

The UK has vaccinated more people than 132 countries combined, new figures reveal. By the end of October, the UK alone had fully vaccinated 45.05 million people from a population of 68.2 million, compared to a total of 44.2 million from 132 countries with a combined population of more than one billion.

Countries collectively representing 13% of the world’s population lag behind the UK, including Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, Ghana, Yemen, Madagascar, Cameroon, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Malawi, and Zambia. Many have vaccination rates of less than 2%.

In Edinburgh, protestors in funeral attire held a white flower wreath reading ‘Shame’ outside the British government’s Scotland office.

For more than a year, the UK has blocked attempts to waive intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines, tests and treatments at the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Since India and South Africa proposed a patent waiver last October, 3.5 million people have died from Covid-19, averaging more than 10,000 deaths a day.

Germany has forced EU opposition to the waiver, despite support from countries including France. But with Germany’s recent change of government, the UK could be the last opponent to the waiver at the WTO.

The development of the Oxford vaccine was 97% publicly funded, but was handed over to AstraZeneca with an exclusive patent, in a deal brokered by the British government. The company has since refused to share the technology and know-how needed to develop the vaccine with the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 patent pool, known as C-TAP. Other major pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna have also refused to join C-TAP.

The United States threw its weight behind a vaccine intellectual property waiver in May. For more than a year, the UK has obstructed efforts to scale up the world’s vaccine supply, forcing the global south to rely on donations that are always too little and too late. Not only has the British government grabbed far more vaccines than we need, they’re actively working to stop low and middle-income countries producing their own vaccines. It’s shameful.

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