Trade unions say Covid vaccine patents disadvantage developing countries

In light of the Omicron variant 32 million teachers and education support personnel represented at the global level by Education International, are joining forces with millions of workers in other sectors to demand that governments ensure universal access to Covid-19 vaccines, health products and technologies.

Today the Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union (NEU), Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney have written to the Prime Minister (see below) urging the UK Government to support the call to waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines and medical products.

A statement adopted by the Council of Global Unions that represents 200 million workers worldwide, urges governments and in particular, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, along with the European Commission, “to put people before profit” and waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines and medical products at the World Trade Organisation.

The temporary waiver of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on Covid-19 vaccines was first proposed by South Africa and India in October 2020. It has the support of over 100 countries around the world.

Vaccine donation schemes aiming to support vaccine access in low- and middle-income countries have consistently failed to reach their targets. A new global report reveals the extent of the failure: Of the 1.8 billion vaccine donations promised by Team Europe (EU, Norway, and Switzerland) and the G7, only 261 million doses – 14% – have been delivered to date. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies are making record-breaking profits at the cost of thousands; if not millions; of human lives.

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said; “Waiving patents, transferring technology and spreading vaccination across the world offers the best chance of avoiding further vaccine variants that might once again impact on education in our own country.”

When quizzed over whether how many doses the UK has so far delivered on, after pledging 100 million to the global Covax vaccine-sharing scheme, Science minister George Freeman told Sky News that Britain had “put the funding in”, but that supply chain issues were delaying the rollout.

When specifically asked what number of the 100 million vaccines has been delivered to the programme, the MP for Mid Norfolk said “We’ve supported that 100 million. They’re in the pipeline. That isn’t the issue.”

Last week a global health expert criticised prime minister Boris Johnson’s claims that lower vaccination rates in developing countries are down to vaccine hesitancy among their populations.

Dr Peter Drobac told Sky News’ Breakfast programme: “There are still over three billion people around the world who haven’t had access to a vaccine. In Africa only 5% of the population is fully vaccinated. The Prime Minister’s comments just aren’t true.”

“Botswana, a middle-income country, signed a deal with Moderna at a very high price – a higher price than we pay for vaccines – months ago and are still waiting for stock because they’re being prioritised to wealthier countries.”