30th May 2023

Ramaphosa slams EU for protecting vaccine profits

  • South African president Cyril Ramaphosa: 'We are talking about the lives of millions rather than the profitability of a few companies' (Photo: European Union)
Listen to article

An African-European summit ended Friday (18 February) on a predictably bitter note, with the European Union continuing to refuse to lift intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines.

African Union leaders, after the two-day summit in Brussels, said an offer by the EU to help Africa build vaccine-manufacturing plants was incomplete without granting Africans the right to duplicate and distribute the vaccines.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

"We are talking about the lives of millions rather than the profitability of a few companies," South African president Cyril Ramaphosa told a news conference.

Ramaphosa called for the European side to waive the intellectual property rights on vaccines, pointing out that the move would consolidate relations between Africa and Europe.

Ramaphosa also said "governments that are really serious about ensuring that the world has access to vaccines" should agree to waive their intellectual property rights.

A patent waiver, he said, would empower African scientists and industry, upgrade existing capabilities on the continent, and facilitate the diversification of manufacturing supply chains.

African leaders had arrived in Brussels on Thursday seeking some measure of European support on a patent waiver ahead of next week's talks at the World Trade Organization, where a proposal for the waiver, first submitted by South Africa and India back in 2020, is expected to be discussed.

Getting European support at the WTO was always going to be hard for the Africans.

EU countries, like Germany and France, have consistently opposed such a patent waiver on vaccines, ostensibly to protect the revenues needed for future innovation and business interests of big European pharmaceutical companies like BioNTech and Sanofi.

And on Friday, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, doubled down on the need for intellectual property right protections as "a very precious good," and as the work of scientists.

French president Emmanuel Macron told the same news conference that Europe was the biggest vaccine-exporter worldwide — a thinly-veiled allusion to the business interests at stake. Overall, the EU has exported over 1.8 billion vaccines doses, including donations.

While EU countries have donated more than 130 million doses to Africa there is a widespread view among experts that vaccine inequality can only be addressed through local production in the long term.

Vaccine manufacturers should be "incentivised to share their expertise, critical technologies and data, as well as their intellectual property through the temporary waiver," Phiona Atuhebwe, a new vaccines introduction medical officer for World the Health Organization, told EUobserver.

Last year, the WHO selected a consortium of South African companies to run an mRNA hub that recently announced that it had reverse-engineered Moderna's vaccines.

But Ramaphosa, speaking to the press in Brussels, said that the hub's work had been hampered by intellectual property barriers.

Senegalese president Macky Sall, who currently chairs the African Union, told journalists on Friday that he hopes to reach "a dynamic compromise agreement" at the WTO on a vaccine patent-waiver in the coming months.

(Photo: EUobserver)
Vaccine-waiver row refuses to die at EU-AU summit

The stark gap in Covid-19 vaccination rates between Europe and Africa is likely to feed into the EU-AU summit negotiations. But a patent waiver still looks like a no-go for Europe.


If EU blocks vaccine waivers, it can drop 'solidarity' talk

Workers such as United Nurses Association of India are furious that the EU is undermining their best efforts and exacerbating the crisis by continuing to put big-pharma profits ahead of Covid vaccine patent-waivers. Is this what solidarity looks like?


The EU Parliament Covid inquiry: the questions MEPs must ask

A basic lack of transparency around the EU's vaccines procurement negotiations has prevented effective public and parliamentary scrutiny. It has also made it impossible to answer some of the key questions we put forward here.

Rich states finally kill vaccine-waiver proposal at WTO

The World Trade Organization reached a deal on patents for Covid-19 vaccines, after a deadlock of nearly two years — since India and South Africa submitted a joint proposal to waive intellectual property rights of vaccines worldwide.


What a Spanish novelist can teach us about communality

In a world where cultural clashes and sectarianism seems to be on the increase, Spanish novelist Javier Cercas (b.1962) takes the opposite approach. He cherishes both life in the big city and in the countryside.

Latest News

  1. Germany unsure if Orbán fit to be 'EU president'
  2. EU Parliament chief given report on MEP abuse 30 weeks before sanction
  3. EU clashes over protection of workers exposed to asbestos
  4. EU to blacklist nine Russians over jailing of dissident
  5. Russia-Ukraine relations the Year After the war
  6. Why creating a new legal class of 'climate refugees' is a bad idea
  7. Equatorial Guinea: a 'tough nut' for the EU
  8. New EU ethics body and Moldova conference This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. InformaConnecting Expert Industry-Leaders, Top Suppliers, and Inquiring Buyers all in one space - visit Battery Show Europe.
  2. EFBWWEFBWW and FIEC do not agree to any exemptions to mandatory prior notifications in construction
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ways to prevent gender-based violence
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Economic gender equality now! Nordic ways to close the pension gap
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Pushing back the push-back - Nordic solutions to online gender-based violence
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: The Nordics are ready to push for gender equality

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us