UNISON has endorsed Labour’s call for the UK government to back the international vaccine waiver in a bid to tackle COVID-19 around the world.
Pressure is growing on Boris Johnson’s government to follow the US government backing for a patent waiver for coronavirus vaccines at the World Trade Organisation.
But writing in The Guardian, shadow secretary of state for international trade Emily Thornberry argues that a patent waiver should only be the start of coordinated international action to tackle the pandemic, and the UK government has shown a critical lack of international leadership at a crucial time.
“Thousands are still dying every day around the world simply because we are not producing the volume of vaccines we need, at the pace we need them, to save those lives,” she writes.
“And the longer COVID-19 runs rampant among unvaccinated populations, the more likely that aggressive new variants will emerge that threaten the success of existing vaccine programmes.
“That cycle needs urgently to be broken through coordinated action at a global level, but where is the leadership coming from to make that happen? Again, not from Johnson’s government.
“On one of the central issues, the proposed waiver of vaccine patents, British ministers have not just sat on the fence in the debate, but have kept entirely silent. What they should be saying, as Labour has, is that those talks must move quickly towards concrete proposals, but with the understanding that – on its own – a waiver of patents will not fix this crisis.”
Labour is proposing an international effort to ‘identify and equip the dozens of new facilities required in key countries and regions around the world to undertake vaccine production’.
They are also proposing ‘the world’s largest ever coordinated investment programme – in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry’ – to ensure that these new facilities have the skills, technology and supplies they need to enable the safe and efficient mass production of vaccines.
Ms Thornberry continues: “And we propose the necessary institutional arrangements – from a regulatory body to oversee vaccine production standards to a formal trade and investment agreement among participating countries – to replicate at a global level the successful direction provided in Britain by the vaccine taskforce.”
Earlier this month, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “Continuing to block vaccine access to less wealthy countries is in no one’s interests.
“With new strains emerging regularly across the globe, we face the possibility of a third wave engulfing the UK. The only way that life can get back to normal is if everyone’s vaccinated.
“The quickest way to do that is to put people before profit and share the vaccine’s intellectual property. This would enable every country to make their own jabs at cost, widening access and saving potentially millions of lives around the world.”