UK government must share vaccine intellectual property rights to prevent thousands of deaths

Helping less wealthy nations will beneift everyone

The British government must waive intellectual property (IP) rights for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to save thousands of lives and prevent unnecessary suffering, says UNISON today (Monday).

Currently, under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights Agreement (TRIPS), pharmaceutical companies that create a coronavirus vaccine hold the exclusive rights to produce them. This means they can dominate the markets, setting prices without any competition.

UNISON is calling on the British government to support the proposal put forward by India and South Africa at the World Trade Organisation. It asks for the IP rights of pharmaceutical giants to be waived so any country can create and supply vaccines at cost price, to protect the maximum number of people. Currently the UK, European Union, USA, Australia, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Brazil, Mexico and South Korea are all blocking the move.

It’s estimated that one-in-four people in wealthy nations have received a Covid jab, compared to one in more than one-in-500 people for lower income countries*. Denying access to mass vaccinations will mean the virus continues to mutate, threatening everyone’s recovery, says UNISON.

The union’s general secretary Christina McAnea will be addressing the Labour L7 conference today (Monday) in a bid to gain consensus for the waiver, ahead of the G7 summit in June.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “The NHS has done an incredible job vaccinating around 46 million people against coronavirus. However, with new strains emerging regularly across the globe, none of us are safe until everyone is vaccinated.

“It is simply wrong that the wealthier nations who’ve benefited the most from the vaccine are blocking the waiver for the less fortunate. Public health should always be placed before profit. There is simply no time for deliberation. For every moment wasted, yet another life is put at risk.”

Notes to editors:
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union, with more than 1.3 million members providing public services – in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, private and community sectors.
– *Figures from the World Health Organisation.

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