Vaccine apartheid: We cannot allow global healthcare to be dictated by the market
Attac Germany protest vaccine inequality

Vaccine apartheid: We cannot allow global healthcare to be dictated by the market

By: Attac Network
Date: 12 October 2021

Statement by the European ATTAC Network, which Global Justice Now is part of, ahead of a meeting of the World Trade Organisation’s intellectual property council.

Vaccine apartheid shows that we need a new economy now. We commit ourselves to resist the shameful policies of European governments.  

There is no greater symbol of the division that haunts our world today than the obscene inequality in access to Covid-19 vaccines. To date, 75% of vaccines have been administered in just 10 countries. While the wealthiest European governments have secured vaccines well in excess of their need, many countries have still not vaccinated the most vulnerable in their populations. Low income countries have been able to vaccinate only 0.5% of their people.

As Big Pharma brags it will produce 12 billion doses in 2021, and European countries purchase booster shots, the international distribution mechanism Covax has been left with a shortfall of half a billion doses this year. This inequality will not be overcome by acts of charity. We need political action to end this scandal.

At the heart of the problem is the vast monopoly power which our global economy hands to big business. Although the major part of the existing vaccines have been developed with public money, the resulting knowledge is privatised, and Big Pharma and its financial backers can profiteer off the resulting products for decades. Countries and factories that want to safely produce vaccines are prevented from doing so. The collaboration and transparency which should characterise medical knowledge production is replaced with secrecy and cutthroat competition.

For a year now, countries of the Global South have been calling for a suspension of global patent rules for Covid vaccines, medicines and medical equipment, the TRIPS-Waiver. Shamefully, a group of wealthy European countries – most importantly Germany, Britain and Switzerland – have blocked this proposal. In other words the very countries which have hoarded vaccine supply are preventing countries which have virtually no supply from producing their own. Their reasoning? The profits of some of the richest corporations in the world are more important in our global economy than the right to life of people in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

If vaccine inequality is left to run, it will not only claim millions more lives, and endanger the recovery of all of us, it will also entrench inequality for a generation.

The monopolies, created by the global trade system, have rendered Big Pharma one of the most financialised in our economy. Far from incentivising innovation, it has encouraged these corporations to spend more on stock buybacks and dividend payments than research and development. It leaves us perilously close to exhausting the antibiotics that modern medicine depends upon, and has inhibited research into many diseases which affect the poorest. Intellectual property rules are also bringing our food system under the control of a handful of corporations whose power is eroding our democracy. And they will make it much harder to deal with climate change as new technologies are monopolised for profit rather than shared for the common good.

Attac was founded to combat the growing power of big finance and big business over our society. The global economy is constructed to put profits and extraction ahead of the lives and wellbeing of people and our planet. The result is staggering levels of inequality, pockets of deep deprivation side-by-side with unprecedented wealth. In turn this has triggered social, political and environmental breakdown. Intellectual property rules reinforce the skewed financial system that we have challenged throughout our existence, to create a form of monopoly capitalism which is incompatible with democracy.

We cannot allow global healthcare to be dictated by the demands of the market.

We need change

We will work to support efforts to waive patent rights over Covid-19 related medicines and technologies. But we will go further and demand more far-reaching changes to the global economy. This includes:

  • radical reform of the intellectual property system to prioritise sharing of knowledge and collaboration to promote the public good. In the short-term this also means supporting technology transfer schemes which allow countries to avoid dependence on big business; permanent waivers on IP rules for technologies vital to the realisation of human rights; and the issuing of compulsory licenses to override patents on a bilateral basis
  • the creation of public and sovereign research and manufacturing capacity around the world to break the stranglehold of Big Pharma over global healthcare,
  • the proper funding of the World Health Organisation to foster cooperation and collaboration in global healthcare policy, explicitly committed to healthcare as a right, prioritising the creation of decent, public and universal healthcare for all

As Europeans, we believe the role our governments have played in expanding inequality during this pandemic is shameful, and recalls the colonial and racist policies employed by many of our countries for centuries. We commit ourselves to resisting these policies and, in solidarity and collaboration with our allies across the world, to creating an economy that serves all people.

This statement is also available in French, German, Spanish, Italian and Norwegian.

Photo: Stephanie Handtmann / Attac

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