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Truthout - November 30, 2021

s debate over a proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines and treatments continues to stall at the World Trade Organization (WTO), members that remain opposed — including the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the European Union — are increasingly being accused of violating human rights on an international scale.

Calls for the WTO to approve the so-called TRIPS waiver for vaccine patents and manufacturing technology are reaching a fever pitch with the emergence of the Omicron variant that was first identified in South Africa. Omicron has prompted travel bans across the world and inflamed tensions over massive global disparities in vaccine access, which experts and advocates have warned for months would allow the virus to mutate and spread outward from lower-income countries where vaccines remain out of reach for most people.

Yet Moderna and other pharmaceutical companies are not sharing “recipes” for COVID vaccines with a South African biotech firm and a World Health Organization (WHO) effort to transfer the technology necessary for making mRNA vaccines to African nations, where only about 1 in 10 people have received at least one dose of the vaccine. In the United States and Europe, monopolies on the crucial technology and know-how needed to make vaccines largely remains controlled by private pharmaceutical companies that received billions of dollars from wealthy governments to develop vaccines — and are now pulling in billions in global profit. 

“The spread of new variants is the direct result of the staggering inequitable access to vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics and other products needed to treat and contain the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Sangeeta Shashikant, a policy advisor for the Third World Network, in a call with reporters last week. “Intellectual property monopolies are causing the inequity.”

Leaders of the Global Nurses Union, which represents 2.5 million health care workers in 28 countries, and the left coalition Progressive International sent a letter to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday decrying global “vaccine apartheid” and demanding an investigation into the countries that continue to block the TRIPS waiver at the WTO. The pandemic has caused a “staggering” number of deaths, the labor and political leaders wrote, with hundreds of thousands of frontline health care workers among them. ...
Read full report at Truthout