Image source: Flickr. Pictured: Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, UN’s Special Rapporteur on Physical and Mental Health. Photo taken by Michael Bonfigli for the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC).
Global pressure has been building on the UK government to stop blocking vaccine equity during the Covid-19 pandemic, with campaigners, NGOs and nurses’ unions calling for a temporary waiver on corporate pharmaceutical intellectual property rights to be instated.
The waiver, titled the TRIPS (Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights) agreement was proposed by South African and Indian governments at the World Trade Organisation last year.
It would temporarily waive patent protections on vaccine recipes, allowing for the manufacture and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines to low-and moderate-income countries to be considerably sped up.
Meanwhile, figures recently released from the Peoples Vaccine Alliance have revealed that the companies behind two of the most successful COVID vaccines –Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna – are making combined profits of $65,000 every minute.
Despite this, the European Union, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, and Singapore governments are currently blocking the TRIPS waiver from going forward.
In response to this, a coalition of nurses’ unions representing over 2.5 million healthcare workers from 28 countries globally, coordinated by Global Nurses United (GNU) and the NGO Progressive International (PI), have filed a complaint with the United Nations, alleging human rights violations by these governments during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In their complaint addressed to Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Physical and Mental Health, the nurses state that “Covid-19 cases continue to soar in numerous parts of the world, while pharmaceutical companies and governments have failed to ensure that critical treatments and vaccines are distributed equitably in order to respond to the pandemic.”
They continue to state, “High-income countries have procured upwards of 7 billion confirmed vaccine doses, while low-income countries have only been able to procure approximately 300 million doses.”
“This has created what public health advocates around the world have described as ‘vaccine apartheid.’”
The complaint calls on Mofokeng to lead an investigation into the “immediate threat to people’s right to health caused by failure by the certain states and institutions (European Union and its constituent member states, United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, Norway, Switzerland, and Singapore) to support the Covid-19 waiver proposal at the TRIPS council in the World Trade Organization.”
Dr. Mofokeng responded, welcoming the position presented by nurses and activists.
“The nurses’ core demand is one I share: States have a collective responsibility to use all available means to facilitate faster access to vaccines, including by introducing a temporary waiver of relevant intellectual property rights under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement),” she said.
“Nurses and health care workers have been on the front line keeping us safe and have witnessed the most painful and heart-wrenching effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Their evident commitment to the right to physical and mental health provides them with moral authority.”
This comes as First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, this week announced her support for the TRIPS waiver to be instated.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament this week, Sturgeon said, “It is fundamentally the case, as Omicron is reminding us, that until everybody across the world is safe, none of us are truly safe.”
“So we are very keen to explore further routes that support equitable access to vaccines. I will write to the Prime Minister on this to encourage him to take whatever action is necessary, but also to offer the full cooperation of the Scottish government in doing so.”
Shirley Marshal Díaz Morales, President of the Federação Nacional dos Enfermeiros, representing 632,000 nurses in Brazil said, “It is way past time for the governments of the world to prioritize the health of the people over the profits of multinational corporations by approving the vaccine waiver.”
“Nurses around the world have cared for patients throughout this pandemic and have seen unbelievable suffering and death, and so many nurses themselves have gotten ill and paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
“It is disgraceful that almost half the world’s population still does not have access to the Covid-19 vaccine. As long as this situation persists, none of us is safe.”
Varsha Gandikota-Nellutla of Progressive International said, “The peoples of the world can take back their international institutions that have been hijacked by a handful of rich nations.”
“The UN charter, the WTO, WHO, and international law should benefit all of humanity. As a first step, we must expose and then defeat the Covid-19 criminals.”
The UK government did not reply to a request for comment at the time of publication.
Members of the public can show their support for the nurses’ action by adding their name to their public petition at https://covid19criminals.exposed/.