Saturday

8th May 2021

Opinion

We need a vaccine-patent waiver. Why is the EU blocking it?

  • More than 90 percent of the population in the world's poorest countries will go without a vaccine in 2021 (Photo: imf.org)

This week, the European Parliament will vote on the Digital Green Certificate regulation.

The text proposed by the European Commission raises a number of concerns in terms of data protection, data security, and possible discrimination in its use and implementation.

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  • A prototype vaccine 'passport'. Linking rights and health status is a slippery slope (Photo: European Commission)

These are key issues for the Left: linking rights and health status is a slippery slope.

Some Europeans might be able to travel freely within the EU this summer but, if we want to tackle the problem at its roots, we need to lift patents on Covid-19 vaccines.

Notwithstanding the tremendous subsidies - over $12bn [€9.96bn] - offered to private companies, we will still be facing a severe shortage of vaccines.

Globally, access to Covid-19 vaccines remains worryingly low: today, less than three percent of the world population has been vaccinated and 90 percent of the population in the world's poorest countries will go without a vaccine this year.

Also, many Europeans won't be able to get this season's most sought-after jab.

The current intellectual property rights architecture leaves all the power to expand production with patent holders.

The monopoly granted to Big Pharma has enabled them to resist any kind of international attempt to share scientific data and technology, making it impossible for other manufacturers across the world to enter into production.

It's up to the companies to decide whether to enter into licensing or manufacturing agreements with other firms. This likely explains why we are currently using only 43% of global production capacity.

The only way to ramp up vaccine production, as soon as possible, is to lift patents and transfer technology. Big Pharma's arguments to keep the monopoly of intellectual property rights on vaccines have already fallen flat. So, what's the way forward from here?

The commission must support the request from South Africa and India, together with over 100 other countries, to temporarily waive TRIPS, the treaty regulating intellectual property rights at the World Trade Organization level, for Covid-19 vaccines.

The sharing of knowledge and technology will ensure more vaccines are produced as soon as possible, for everybody, everywhere across the globe.

This is not some idealist dream, it is an urgent necessity, both pragmatic and practical, supported by over 175 former heads of state and Nobel Laureates.

For half a morning, it was also endorsed by the HR/VP Josep Borrell, but then his tweet was deleted.

Over 150,000 European citizens are demanding action. We are now counting on the support of our colleagues at the European Parliament.

At the initiative of The Left, parliament has already called on the commission and member states to overcome the barriers and restrictions arising from patents and intellectual property rights in order to ensure widespread production of vaccines and their timely distribution to everyone, everywhere.

This is why The Left is demanding a debate on the TRIPS waiver in plenary and has tabled some proposals in reaction to the commission's Digital Green Certificate Regulation. We need to make sure that the vaccine against Covid-19 becomes a global common good.

If the EU wants to shake off the longstanding criticism of being "too slow, too disunited, too disconnected from the people" and doing 'too little, too late', now is the time to act.

Brussels can lead the international community out of the crisis of the century by placing the right to health where it belongs: at the centre of its decisions and politics.

Author bio

Marc Botenga, Katerina Konecna and Dimitrios Papadimoulis are all MEPs with The Left.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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