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Failure to Enact a Meaningful WTO Waiver to Scale Up Production of COVID-19 Vaccines, Treatments and Tests Will Prolong the Pandemic and Cause More Death, Economic Hardship and Social and Political Disruption

Video recording, transcript and this release with organizational logos available here. Quotes from speakers and petition groups below.

Today members of Congress joined health, labor, faith and development leaders in a press conference urging President Joe Biden to deliver on his pledge to remove intellectual property barriers that limit access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests and prolong the pandemic by securing a waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial starting next week.  A meaningful WTO waiver that can facilitate the necessary scale-up in production will only be agreed if the Biden administration applies maximum diplomatic and political pressure to make it happen, the groups said.

The organizations delivered three million petitions urging Biden to step up U.S. leadership to secure a temporary waiver of WTO intellectual property barriers supported by more than 120 nations to help end the pandemic.

The press conference comes ahead of the key Nov. 30 WTO Ministerial (MC12) and more than a year after a COVID emergency WTO waiver was first proposed by South Africa and India. Less than 7% of people in low-income nations have received a first COVID shot and current vaccine producers are behind their 2021 production pledges even as demand for shots has increased with rich-country booster programs and vaccination of children.

The petition delivery is part of dozens of actions taking place in countries across the globe ahead of MC12 to insist that an emergency COVID-19 WTO waiver be agreed.

On May 5, people across the globe celebrated the Biden administration’s support of the waiver, which would suspend WTO intellectual property barriers that provide pharmaceutical firms with lengthy monopoly rights to control supplies of vaccines, tests and treatments — even in a global pandemic when there simply are not enough being made. The U.S. announcement initially created momentum for a waiver, which now enjoys the support of the vast majority of WTO member nations. But six months later, in the absence of U.S. leadership to deliver a waiver deal, the European Union, on behalf of Germany, plus Switzerland and the United Kingdom have blocked progress on a waiver of WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rules, even as millions die waiting for shots and treatments.

Health, labor, faith, consumer and other organizations worldwide and their millions of members agree that a waiver is critical to scale up production of the COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests necessary to end the pandemic. Forty organizations gathered more than three million petition signatures in support of the waiver.

With the WTO Ministerial days away, today’s petition delivery is a painful reminder to the Biden administration that every day the U.S. fails to act, more people die. The mismatch between the administration’s stated priority of getting the world vaccinated and ending the pandemic to save lives, versus the failure to deliver on a waiver is disastrous and unacceptable.

A global call to action for the waiver at MC12 is endorsed by powerful labor, health and other organization worldwide including the global labor federation, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Public Services International (PSI), Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Oxfam, Avaaz, the People’s Vaccine Alliance, Greenpeace, and many more. Today’s three million petition signatures add to a deluge of support for the waiver, including from the majority of U.S. House Democratsten U.S. senators170-plus former heads of state and Nobel laureates400-plus U.S. civil society organizations, 250 international organizations and over 100 international intellectual policy academics.

Contact: Gabby Arias, [email protected]

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Statements from press conference participants

Paul O’Brien, Amnesty International USA, Executive Director

“This is the moment, President Biden, to prove you’re willing to put muscle behind a rights-based foreign policy, hold pharmaceutical companies accountable, hold those countries accountable, and unblock the TRIPS waiver so we can find a rights-based solution to this pandemic… This pandemic is impacting the entire human rights agenda. It has taken more than 5 million lives, and it’s also wreaking havoc on political rights. It’s leading to protests all around the world, and those protests will get worse as it tears economies apart and leads more and more people behind in terms of economic, social, and cultural rights…. Until we create a rights-based solution, everyone else is out of luck. Instead of the US showing sufficient leadership from the moment it made those announcements to solve the problem we’ve got now, it has rested on its hands. The only way we are going to get there in this moment is if we start to regulate the power of pharmaceutical companies. You’ve got three countries, through the EU, where it’s worth noting that pharmaceutical companies have huge political power, in Germany, in the UK, and in Switzerland, blocking the TRIPS waiver, even though more than 100 countries support the waiver, even though 3 million people say the time to act is now. Those three countries are blocking this from moving forward. The one country that can change this equation is another place where pharmaceutical corporations have huge power, the US. It is time for this government to take back power from the pharmaceutical companies and insist that our diplomatic weight goes toward solving this problem.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)

“The world is fast approaching a moment of opportunity to begin the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting November 30, the WTO will convene its ministerial conference in Geneva, which could make decisions that would finally halt the worldwide pandemic that threatens humankind. The good news is that there are now wonderful vaccines that are extremely effective in combating the virus, including the current Delta variant. The bad news is that outside of the US and a handful of other countries, only a tiny percentage of people have received vaccines. The presence of the virus anywhere is a threat to people everywhere, particularly given the threat that a variant that is resistant to the current vaccine could emerge. Five million people have died worldwide, including 750,000 Americans. Now is the time to stop the carnage. The way out is simple: Distributing the vaccine around the globe would be life-saving, and we could actually do this. President Biden, on May 5 of this year, you made the wise and courageous decision to support the TRIPS waiver along with his great trade representative, Katherine Tai. … Now we are appealing to President Biden to use his indispensable leadership power to insist the WTO follows his lead and that the vast majority of the members of the WTO approve a temporary TRIPS waiver.”

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)

“Next week, when the WTO ministerial conference kicks off, President Biden’s leadership will never be more essential to help end this pandemic. The stakes could not be higher. Inaction is not an option. Failure to enact a waiver will only prolong the pandemic, leading to more death, illness, economic hardship and social and political disruption around the world. It is long past time for the president to deliver on his historic support for this waiver. We will only be successful if the president, working with USTR Katherine Tai, uses the opportunity to get the WTO waiver done, which will facilitate broad tech transfer, speed up COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments by expanding global production. During the campaign, President Biden said he would commit to sharing technology and access to coronavirus vaccines if the US developed one first, and we have. Let me say, the President was right then. As president he was right at the WTO, and he will be right again next week once we deliver on these actions at the WTO ministerial conference. Doing our part to end the pandemic by sharing what we have learned and to do everything we can to alleviate the suffering around the world is a moral necessity and would help to restore US leadership around the world. Last week I had a Labor HHS subcommittee hearing on appropriations with Dr. Kessler and Director Pace on our nation’s role in global COVID-19 vaccine equity. I held the hearing because I am disturbed by the general lack of urgency in ensuring every person across the world has access to the COVID-19 vaccine. While the US is a leader in the fight to vaccinate the world, why is it taking so long to manufacture the vaccine? For the life of me, I cannot understand why we are still in this predicament. People are dying, time is of the essence, and in the midst of it all, Moderna is making billions of dollars profiting off the suffering of those it refuses to save. This is unacceptable. Now, just one week before the World Trade Organization ministerial begins, I’m once again calling on President Biden to step up and deliver on a waiver of WTO intellectual property barriers temporarily, waive these barriers that are limiting the supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, and diagnostic tests that are critical to be able to end the pandemic.”

Pauline Muchina, American Friends Service Committee, Public Education & Advocacy Coordinator (PEAC) for the Africa Region

“We are here to call on President Biden to walk the talk. It is time for him to put his faith in practice and to put his humanity in practice and to put his heart toward the  billions of people waiting for him to act.. Negligence and abdication of responsibilities of any world leaders, including those of Germany, the UK, Switzerland, Canada, are immoral. From a faith perspective, we cannot tolerate that. That is why we are calling on them to show compassion to end this…Vaccine apartheid is inhumane and it is unjust. It is vaccine apartheid when most of the people around the world who lack access to vaccines are people of color. In my home country of Kenya, only 10% of the population has received vaccines. In some other African countries, only 4% of the people have received vaccines…. If we don’t vaccinate the rest of the world, we cannot rest easy.  If we don’t vaccinate the rest of the world, the economy will not bounce back…. The pandemic is stoppable. The only thing preventing that is greed. We are calling on world leaders to get off their high horses and challenge these pharmaceutical companies and save millions of lives. Let us approve the TRIPS waiver at the WTO to save lives globally.”

Sara Nelson, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, President

“President Biden, you are a world leader, and you are seen as the leader of the free world. It is time to use that power and the power of the people who elected you and stand behind you and the workers who need your support around the world. It is time to make good on the promise that we are going to lead the world, that America is back. We have to reject every attempt to say that this is a difficult or wonky issue. This is an issue of whether we are going to act like human beings or not. We implore you to put every effort behind marshalling a real effort to ending this pandemic and to show the world the true hearts of Americans and all humanity, that we are stronger with solidarity together. The truth is, I know as a labor leader that an injury to one is an injury to all. We cannot think about this as getting the vaccine to certain countries. We cannot think about this as only affecting our own communities. As flight attendants, we know the entire world is our workplace. We are not going to end this pandemic if we don’t marshal all of our resources and all of our leadership to bring people together to end all barriers to production, to distribution, to technology transfer, to everything needed to end this pandemic… We are less safe when people question, where is the US? Why is the US not fighting for us? Why did President Biden say on May 5 that he supported this, but hasn’t put every effort behind it to make it a reality? If we don’t take a lead here, we will allow the dark forces of the world to grow bigger and bigger and drive the idea that you’re on your own. There is something bigger at stake here than ending this pandemic. It’s the soul of the nation and the soul of the world.”

Avril Benoît, Doctors Without Borders USA (MSF USA), Executive Director

“The US made a big, bold decision to support this groundbreaking TRIPS waiver, but is now largely absent from the global effort to make it a reality. This is a historic opportunity, and the US must play a leadership role. While the US now has plenty of tools to tackle COVID-19, people in many low- and middle-income countries are still suffering and dying without vaccines, tests, or treatments. We don’t have time to waste. The US must deliver on its promise and ensure that the TRIPS waiver is adopted.”

Asia Russell, Executive Director, Health GAP

“With days to go before the 12th ministerial meeting in Geneva, and more than 12 months since the TRIPS waiver proposal was put forward, unfortunately the Biden administration has not yet woken up. US negotiators told us Friday they’re playing what they call a facilitating role. What they are actually doing is enabling the outright obstruction. I don’t know about you, but enabling obstruction is in some ways worse than obstruction itself. The reality is that the time for playing a facilitating role is over. This administration was elected to do much better. The administration must stand up and must act. Every day, more than 6 times the number of boosters are administered than primary doses in the Global South. That’s completely unacceptable. Leadership means expending all possible public, political, and diplomatic pressure to ensure that sliver of opposition is confronted, is challenged, and is dissolved. Otherwise, the failure to deliver a TRIPS waiver to crush COVID-19 will and should be laid at the feet of the Biden administration’s team. There’s still time for the administration to keep its promise, but only if it does more than merely express support for the TRIPS waiver.”

Dr. Joia Mukherjee, MD, MPH, Partners In Health, Chief Medical Office

“We are in a position where we as America could regain our status as moral leaders if we do the right thing, which is waiving the patents, and more importantly, the actualization, the language on that, the insistence on sharing know-how, and last and perhaps most importantly, is the funding. … My staff and dear friends around the world, often unimmunized, even as I have had my booster shot, these people are tired of being on the front line. Health workers and vulnerable people around the world have not been vaccinated. This kind of nationalism, vaccine nationalism, is just as bad as building a wall. It’s building a wall around our privilege, saying we alone can get these amazing fruits of modern medicine. This is only a scarce commodity because Pharma wants it to be a scarce commodity so they can maximize profits. We’re often hearing that China is the real enemy. This is not true. This must be a collaborative effort across the world. What we see is that China is stepping up and vaccinating people. We need to do our share and not look at this as us against them. This is a test for our ability as a globe to collaborate in the 21st century. If we can’t do this, how can we imagine coordinating on climate change and other huge existential threats? We are calling on the Biden administration to fully articulate what a patent waiver is, to force the sharing of know-how, and to put money into this.”

Lori Wallach, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch

“The most important thing the WTO can do to end the pandemic is to get out of the way by removing WTO intellectual property barriers to saving lives. A meaningful WTO waiver that can facilitate the necessary scale-up in COVID vaccine and medicine production will only be agreed if the Biden administration applies maximum diplomatic and political pressure to make it happen. The stakes could not be higher: Failure to enact a waiver will prolong the pandemic leading to more death, illness, economic hardship, and social and political disruption.”

Statements from organizations participating in the petition drive:

Mary J. Novak, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Executive Director

“The United States has been blessed with incredible life-saving vaccines for our nation. As we provide third vaccine doses and expand distribution to children, billions of people in the Global South wait for their first shot. It is unacceptable and immoral for countries to continue obstructing access to critical vaccines, treatments, and tests necessary to end the pandemic, putting profit over humanity. Unless the World Trade Organization acts to prioritize life by securing a temporary waiver of intellectual property treatments, this Ministerial will be a failure that leads to continued death and suffering. As Pope Francis recently said: ‘In the name of God… I ask all the great pharmaceutical laboratories to release the patents. Make a gesture of humanity and allow every country, every people, every human being, to have access to the vaccines.’”

Abby Maxman, Oxfam America, President & CEO

“Over the last year, pharmaceutical corporations have shown that we cannot count on them to deliver access to COVID vaccines for everyone, everywhere. Only concerted action by governments to force them to share the technology, know-how, and intellectual property will achieve this,” said Abby Maxman, President and CEO of Oxfam America. “This is a critical moment. President Biden and all governments must immediately support the proposal of South Africa and India at the WTO for a temporary waiver on all COVID-19 medical technologies.”

Avril Benoît, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières USA, Executive Director

“The US made a big, bold decision to support this groundbreaking TRIPS waiver, but is now largely absent from the global effort to make it a reality. This is a historic opportunity, and the US must play a leadership role. While the US now has plenty of tools to tackle COVID-19, people in many low- and middle-income countries are still suffering and dying without vaccines, tests, or treatments. We don’t have time to waste. The US must deliver on its promise and ensure that the TRIPS waiver is adopted.”

Joyce Ajlouny, American Friends Service Committee, General Secretary

The refusal to approve the TRIPS waiver to scale up vaccine production is inhumane and unjust. President Biden, it is time to walk the talk and facilitate the approval of the TRIPS waiver to save lives. In addition, the US needs to show real solidarity to low and middle-income countries that have only had enough vaccine to reach 4% of their populations. It is time for leadership to end this pandemic.”

Dr. Krishnan Narasimhan, Doctors for America, Board Chair 

“If we really want to get to the end of this pandemic, it is imperative that we expand access to vaccines and other lifesaving technology to low- and middle-income nations. The U.S. must support the passage of the WHO TRIPS waiver against intellectual property barriers, fight monopolies to transfer vaccine technology, and equitably scale global vaccine manufacturing. We are still in a global moment of crisis. It’s time to choose people over profits.”

Arthur Stamoulis, Citizens Trade Campaign, Executive Director 

“The world desperately needs the WTO to waive intellectual property rules that continue standing in the way of increased production of the COVID vaccines, test kits and treatments needed to save lives and end the pandemic.  After more than a year of debate, any WTO response to COVID that fails to deliver a comprehensive waiver agreement would call into question not only the point of holding a ministerial in the middle of a public health emergency, but also the credibility of the entire institution.”

Sarah Roth-Gaudette, Fight for the Future, Executive Director 

“As the Delta variant continues to rage across the US and around the world, the Biden administration cannot continue to put the intellectual property interests and profits of Big Pharma before the lives of millions of people. For too long, the cabal of IP and copyright maximalists have organized behind the scenes to turn our government into a vehicle for their profit that turns a blind eye to their abuses. Now, our government is poised to take direct and meaningful action to save millions of lives, potentially preventing a variant even worse than Delta. We must share life-saving technology and information with other countries around the world, to do anything else is a betrayal of our humanity.”

Brook K. Baker, Health GAP, Senior Policy Analyst

“The importance of the temporary TRIPS waiver is becoming clearer today.  Instead of freeing IP, insisting on technology transfer, and supporting independent vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostic manufacturing capacity where it is needed – in developing countries, the U.S. has just announced another corporate boondoggle promising to invest billions of taxpayer dollars in domestic manufacturing capacity controlled by Pfizer and Moderna, companies that stand to make well over $100 billion this year and next on taxpayer-subsidized messenger RNA vaccines.  At the same time, important outpatient antivirals owned by Merck and Pfizer are awaiting regulatory approval and have already been purchased in bulk by the US and other rich countries.  Merck and Pfizer’s voluntary licenses retain monopoly control in important upper-middle income country markets that now face restricted supplies and extortionate prices well in excess of the $10 per course of treatment cost of production.  The waiver remains essentially to bypass the patents, data protections, and trade secret rules that thwart low-cost manufacturing of assured quality in LMICs. The time for procrastination and fence sitting by the US has long passed – the U.S. must immediately join in the drafting of a full waiver text and put irresistible pressure on the handful of opponents, Germany, Switzerland, and the UK.”

Ben Levenson, Justice is Global, Deputy Director

“It’s been over a year since India and South Africa proposed the TRIPS waiver to expand vaccine production and help end the pandemic everywhere. It is unconscionable that a wealthy few are still blocking this commonsense measure that the vast majority of the world wants. We are organizing rallies across the US in solidarity with people around the world to show that the American public understands that vaccine inequity means a prolonged pandemic and preventable suffering. We cannot wait another year for our leaders to take this crisis seriously and we will escalate pressure until they do so.”

Alex Lawson, Social Security Works, Executive Director

“People around the world are dying needlessly because of Big Pharma’s greed. President Biden must lead the WTO to enact a plan to vaccinate the world and end the pandemic by distributing know-how and manufacturing to all countries that can help.”

Mark Harrington, Treatment Action Group, Executive Director

“U.S. taxpayers funded the development of effective COVID-19 vaccines directly, and through pre-purchase contracts that guaranteed a return on investment to Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson. Despite investing billions, our government is standing by while these companies prevent generic manufacturers from producing affordable vaccines for low- and middle-income countries. The White House should recognize that standing up to pharma is a winning message, but only if you follow through with action.”

Organizations participating in the petition campaign:

ActionAid USA

American Friends Service Committee

Amnesty USA

Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (USA)

Avaaz

Be A Hero

Center for Health and Hope

Citizens Trade Campaign

Demand Progress

Doctors For America

Drug Prices Are Too High

Fight for the Future

Greenpeace

Health GAP

Jewish Voice for Peace Action

Justice Is Global

Marked By COVID

National Council of Churches USA

National Organization of Women

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

Other98

Oxfam America

Partners In Health

Progress America

Progressive Democrats of America

Right to Health Action

Social Security Works

Treatment Action Group

Union of Concerned Scientists

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