Over 10,000 people die every day the UK blocks Covid vaccine patent waiver

Over 10,000 people die every day the UK blocks Covid vaccine patent waiver

Date: 2 October 2021
Campaigns: Pharma

  • UK government urged not to shame the UK for a generation” on first anniversary of vaccine patent waiver proposal

  • ‘Day of shame’ planned across Europe ahead of crunch WTO meeting on 13-14 October

An average of 10,193 people have died from Covid-19 each day that the British government has blocked attempts to waive intellectual property for coronavirus vaccines and treatments, officially totalling 3.70 million deaths over the last year, though experts believe the real total is likely much higher.

India and South Africa first proposed the waiver at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on 2 October 2020. The waiver would allow global south countries to produce Covid-19 vaccines patent-free, making use of the huge spare capacity around the world. But one year on, campaigners accuse the UK of creating a system of “vaccine apartheid” by blocking the waiver.

After receiving near-unanimous support from low and middle-income countries, the United States threw its weight behind the waiver in May 2021, while Australia announced its support last month.

Germany has forced EU opposition to the waiver, despite support from countries including France. But with post-election coalition talks likely to bring a change in government in Germany, the UK could be the last opponent to the waiver at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

Just 0.5% of people in low-income countries are fully vaccinated and less than 3% of people in Africa. Many countries are left waiting for donations while rich countries roll out third jabs to their already fully vaccinated populations.

Next week, campaigners will hold a funeral procession protest on Whitehall, bringing coffins to Downing Street to mark the deaths from Covid-19 around the world. Campaigners will say the death toll is well in excess of where it could be, because of the actions of the British government.

The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, supports a waiver and has called on wealthy countries with large supplies of coronavirus vaccines to refrain from offering booster shots through the end of the year, expanding an earlier request that has been largely ignored.

Epidemiologists have warned that global vaccine inequality threatens to undermine our current generation of vaccines, while a report from the Wellcome Trust and Institute for Government warned that virus mutations will “chip away” at the protection offered by vaccines.

When pressed on vaccine apartheid, the government says the UK is a significant financial donor to Covax, but Britain had not donated any actual doses of vaccine until August this year. Covax only intends to vaccinate 30% of participating countries’ populations and has faced recurrent delays, supply problems, and setbacks. It was recently revealed that Britain also took 500,000 Pfizer jabs from Covax supplies back in March, despite being among the best supplied countries in the world at that time.

Pharmaceutical companies have boycotted the WHO’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP), a patent pool intended to share vaccine technology and know-how with safe manufacturers to maximise global vaccine production.

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said:

“We have so much untapped vaccine manufacturing capacity, but corporate monopolies are creating an artificial shortage of Covid jabs. For an entire year, the UK has quashed pleas from low and middle-income countries to waive patents and millions have died in the process.

“10,000 people die every day that the UK continues to block a vaccine intellectual property waiver at the World Trade Organisation. Each one of those deaths should be a stain on the conscience of the Prime Minister.

“Right now, Boris Johnson is enforcing a system of vaccine apartheid. At Conservative Party conference this week, he must finally show leadership on global vaccine access and stand on the right side of history.

“Given the British government’s failure to export or supply more than a tiny trickle of doses, the least we can do is get out of the way of others producing their own vaccine. Failing to act will shame the UK for a generation or more.”


Notes to editors

According to Oxford University’s Out World in Data, 3.70 million people have died from Covid-19 since 2 October 2020, when India and South Africa first proposed a waiver of intellectual property rules on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-deaths .

As of 30 September, an average of 10,193 people have died across the 363 days since the proposal was put forward.

Photo: A member of the People’s Vaccine Campaign of South Africa protests outside the Johnson & Johnson offices in Cape Town, South Africa, in March. Credit: Nic Bothma/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock