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As Delta Variant Rages, Public Health, Other Experts Urge Biden to Use Merkel Summit to End German Blockage of WTO TRIPS Waiver for COVID-19 Vaccines

Oxfam Germany, Partners In Health, Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar, Public Citizen, Nobel Laureate Economist Prof. Joseph Stiglitz and Rep. Jan Schakowsky Say Biden-Merkel Summit a Failure If No Progress on TRIPS Waiver

CONTACT: Derrick Robinson, drobinson@citizen.org


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, experts in public health and economics as well as religious and congressional leaders urged President Joe Biden to use his July 15 summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to convince her to end her opposition to a COVID-19 intellectual property waiver so that production of vaccines and treatments can be scaled up worldwide to save lives. The Biden-Merkel summit will be a failure unless it includes an agreement for Germany to join the U.S. in supporting the waiver and prioritizing the fastest possible end of the pandemic.

In May, the Biden administration declared support for an emergency waiver of WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS).  Many nations followed the administration’s lead. However, despite support for the waiver from France and other European nations, Germany has used WTO consensus rules to block the 130-plus nations that view a waiver as key to boosting production of vaccines and other medical supplies. The rising Delta variant makes it brutally clear that the world is not winning the battles between vaccines and variants, or between treatments and needless deaths, or between tests and raging outbreaks.

Merkel’s singular role as the obstacle has made the D.C. summit a critical test of whether President Joe Biden can deliver on his goal of a TRIPS waiver unlocking global vaccine and treatment access. If Biden cannot move Merkel at the summit, his initiative to save tens of millions of lives could fail despite his historic support for the waiver. Merkel risks destroying her legacy as a humanitarian leader in the migration crisis by appearing to be a Big Pharma shill prioritizing corporate monopolies over millions of people’s lives.

Video of today’s event is available here.

Statements from speakers:

Father Charlie Chilufya, Jesuit Conference of Africa and Madagascar, Director of Justice and Ecology: “President Joe Biden’s July 15 White House summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be an epic moral failure unless it ends Germany’s blockage of an emergency WTO waiver to facilitate production of more COVID-19 vaccines and treatments needed to save millions of lives. This health crisis is now also a global justice crisis, a failure of humanity. We think that President Biden has the leverage and can ask Angela Merkel to look toward those who are suffering in Africa, Latin America and in Asia, and join him in preventing unnecessary deaths. America has provided leadership before. And by supporting the COVID medicine waiver, and leading other rich countries to join the U.S., America has already started showing leadership. Now President Biden can move Merkel and Germany, to have compassion, to have kindness and to prioritize human life and not profits. President Biden’s faith is a central part of his commitment to social justice. Our Catholic social teaching prioritizes over all else respect for the dignity of the human person. And I would like to appeal to my fellow Catholic, I would like to appeal to the president of America to continue doing as he is doing, but even do more: Get Germany to do what should be done now, support the waiver, so that more medicines may be produced and may be availed to everyone, every country, and everywhere. This is President Biden’s moment for true global leadership.”

Marian Lieser, Oxfam Germany, Executive Director: “Chancellor Merkel must immediately change course and stand up for people’s lives over pharmaceutical profits. She must follow the lead of President Biden and more than 100 other nations in backing a waiver on intellectual property for the vaccines at the WTO. This would allow more manufacturers, especially in the Global South, to start producing the vaccines needed in their countries. They have the skills, knowledge, and capacities to do so – if only they are no longer blocked by a wall of intellectual property rights. It’s time to tear down this wall.”

Dr. Joia Mukherjee, Partners In Health, Chief Medical Officer:Every day, billions of people around the world hope against hope for the chance to take a COVID vaccine, but cruel and foolish monopolies continue to keep vaccines out of reach, with ever-more-fatal results. I call on Chancellor Angela Merkel to join leaders of more than 150 countries and endorse a TRIPS Waiver.”

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.): “With a third wave of COVID-19 raging in many parts of the world and threatening variants emerging, we are in dire need of a TRIPS waiver NOW. While Germany dithers at the WTO, repeating the same talking points, Pfizer is profiting from human suffering. The United States and almost every other WTO member wants a TRIPS waiver as quickly as possible. Chancellor Merkel must join President Biden in supporting the waiver, and protect people worldwide from the worst health threat in a century. We cannot afford any more deaths at the hands of vaccine nationalism and pharma monopolies. We need shots in arms, and we need them NOW.”

Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate Economist and Columbia University Professor: “There are so many compelling arguments — from morality to our self-interest, our own health to economics and also this fundamental battle for hearts and minds of people all over the world — that make supporting this waiver a no-brainer. There won’t be a global economic recovery until the disease is put under control everywhere in the world. It is estimated that the loss in output from the delay in getting vaccines to everybody in the world is the trillions of dollars…We have to remember, the magnitude of the pandemic downturn is so large that it too has health consequences. As more and more people get pushed into poverty, more and more people will die and people will not have access to other aspects of health that they need…  I’m an academic, like Angela Merkel who is a physicist, and we understand the importance of intellectual property. But intellectual property is a social construction that is meant to advance the wellbeing of our society. With the waiver, there is no change in the basic intellectual property framework associated with the waiver. It is not taking away intellectual property rights. It is reducing transaction costs. Why is this so important? Because time is important… We can’t wait for the months and years that it would take to go country by country, product by product. We need a waiver. … Let me emphasize, the drug companies do get compensated even though most of the research was paid for by the public. … The bottleneck that the market can’t solve is the intellectual property bottleneck. That’s where politics, that’s where Merkel’s actions and Germany’s actions are so important today. … We are engaged in a battle over values. We’re talking here about the values of lives over monopoly profits.”

Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch:  “The world expected Chancellor Merkel to be with President Biden, South Africa’s and France’s presidents and India’s Prime Minister leading for a waiver to unlock the greater global vaccine and treatment production worldwide necessary to stop the pandemics, not blocking the rest of the world and  threatening to replace her legacy as a humanitarian with the image of a Big Pharma shill. With his historic support for the waiver, President Biden showed the world the U.S. was back, but to show U.S. global leadership, at this summit he must get Germany to stop blocking what the president says is a U.S. priority to save tens of millions of lives.