MSPs call on Westminster to back suspension of patents on Covid-19 vaccines

Wednesday, 9 December, 2020

Thirty seven MSPs (almost one third of the Scottish parliament) from the Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour, Scottish Liberal Democrats and Scottish Greens have written to the UK government ahead of an important international meeting on Thursday to call on them to support a proposal to make Covid-19 vaccines and treatments accessible and affordable to all countries, not just the richest.

Thursday’s meeting of the World Trade Organisation’s TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council will look at a joint proposal from South Africa and India (1) that recommends that governments should be able to suspend patents on Covid-19 treatments, vaccines, diagnostics and other health technologies during the pandemic in order to allow a greater supply of vaccines and treatments at more affordable prices.  

Research also released today shows that, as things currently stand, nearly 70 low and lower-middle income countries will only be able to vaccinate one in ten people against Covid-19 next year unless urgent action is taken by governments and the pharmaceutical industry to make sure enough doses are produced – whereas rich countries have ordered enough doses to vaccinate their entire populations nearly three times over.

Intellectual property (IP) rules play a large part in restricting access through high prices and shortages.  IP rules have already affected access to N95 respirator masks and ventilator valves during the current pandemic, as well as ongoing access to medicines for cancers, hepatitis C and cystic fibrosis.

There has been growing support from governments around the world for the proposal from South Africa and India, with reports from recent meetings showing that just under 100 countries support it. But rich countries, including the UK, are currently opposing it.

Liz Murray, head of Scottish campaigns at Global Justice Now said:  

“This is a really important proposal from South Africa and India which would make Covid-19 vaccines and treatments more accessible and affordable to all countries, but particularly those in the global south.  The UK government must act in solidarity and support this proposal to ensure that pharmaceutical companies put people before profit and that everyone everywhere has access to vaccines and treatments. We’re really pleased to see so many MSPs, from across the parties, adding their voices and calling on the UK government to do that.”


(1) On 2 October, South Africa and India submitted a joint proposal to the TRIPS (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) Council at the World Trade Organisation titled “Waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19”. 

Image: @dun_deagh