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Global, U.S. Protestors Demand WTO Waive IP Restrictions Blocking COVID-19 Vaccine Access Following Delay of WTO Ministerial Due to Omicron Variant

WTO Must Lift IP Obstacles to Greatly Expand Vaccine, Treatment Production or New Variants Will Cause Endless Cycle of Death and Economic Hardship

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 30, 2021

CONTACT: Matt Groch mgroch@citizen.org (603) 560-0847


Photos of protests here.


WASHINGTON, DC — Today, doctors and medical students, labor and faith leaders and activists across the U.S. and around the world are holding vigils and protests as part of a global call to action demanding the suspension of World Trade Organization (WTO) rules that are prolonging the global COVID-19 pandemic by providing monopoly control to a few pharmaceutical corporations which limits supplies of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. 


Protests are being held in a dozen American cities and two dozen locales worldwide in support of an emergency waiver of WTO rules that now empower a few pharmaceutical corporations to decide how much vaccine and treatment is produced and where it is sold. A waiver would allow medicines to be produced in as many places as possible as quickly as possible. 


The day of action was planned to coincide with the start of a WTO Ministerial Conference in Geneva, the body’s first major decision-making summit in four years. The meeting was postponed indefinitely due to global travel restrictions spurred by the new Omicron variant. Even as the organization that has blocked global access to vaccines is forced to shut down due to a new variant, activists continue to demand the WTO get out of the way of ending the pandemic. 


COVID-19 variants like Omicron and Delta develop in regions where few people can obtain vaccines. Today, only 7% of people in low-income countries have had their first dose due to ongoing shortages of vaccine supplies. Participants in many of Tuesday’s vigils and protests are observing a moment of silence with the ringing of a bell every four seconds, with each toll symbolizing another preventable COVID-19 death caused by the WTO’s inaction. 


At his Monday briefing on Omicron, President Joe Biden explained: “But we need to do more than vaccinate Americans. To beat the pandemic, we have to vaccinate the world as well. And America is leading that effort. … The Delta variants and now the Omicron variant all emerged elsewhere in the world. So we can’t let up until the world is vaccinated. We’re protecting Americans by doing that as well.” On Nov. 26, just before the WTO announced the postponement of the ministerial, Biden reiterated his position and called “on the nations gathering next week for the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting to meet the U.S. challenge to waive intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines.”


“The Omicron variant and the Delta variant before it are the endless pandemic that public health experts have warned about unless everyone around the world can get vaccinated and there are no raging COVID outbreaks to hatch dangerous new variants,” said Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “The world has wasted more than a year of trying everything but the necessary emergency suspension of pharmaceutical firms’ monopoly control over how many vaccines and treatments are made, which is necessary to get the supplies needed to end the pandemic. We need U.S. leadership at the WTO to get our European allies to stop blocking the 100-plus nations that want this waiver and to get a special online WTO meeting to enact a comprehensive waiver immediately.”


Advocates for the waiver are holding vigils and protests this week not just across the U.S. — but also in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Pakistan, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Uganda, the U.K. and more. 


This global call to action is endorsed by powerful labor, health and other organization worldwide including the global labor federation, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Public Services International (PSI), Amnesty International, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Oxfam, Avaaz, the People’s Vaccine Alliance, Greenpeace, and many more. 


A full list of events is below.


BACKGROUND: More than 100 nations support a temporary, COVID-specific waiver of WTO rules that are part of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). The Biden administration announced its support for this TRIPS waiver in May and Pres. Biden reiterated the urgency of enacting a waiver in his statement on Friday about the omicron variant. But the U.S. government has not acted to get the few close U.S. allies blocking the waiver, the European Union (pushed by Germany), Switzerland and the UK, to allow progress on the critical initiative. A meaningful WTO waiver that can facilitate the necessary scale-up in production will only be agreed to if the Biden administration applies maximum diplomatic and political pressure to make it happen. 


Last week, members of Congress joined health, labor, faith and development leaders to deliver three million petition signatures with this demand, and nine U.S. Senators called on President Biden to “deliver on your promise to defeat the pandemic” by actively pushing for the TRIPS waiver at the ministerial. With the ministerial now postponed, advocates are demanding Biden work with the European Union and WTO Director-General to hold an emergency, online meeting to approve the waiver. 


This week, a coalition of nurses unions representing well over 2.5 million health care workers from 28 countries around the world — coordinated by Global Nurses United and Progressive International filed a complaint to the UN Special Rapporteur on Physical and Mental Health, alleging human rights violations by the EU, UK, Norway, Switzerland and Singapore, for their opposition to the TRIPS waiver. Waiver opposing countries were also directly named and shamed this week by the Council of Global Unions (CGU), which represents over 200 million workers. 


Since being introduced over a year ago, support for the waiver has poured in from the majority of U.S. House Democrats, ten U.S. senators, 170-plus former heads of state and Nobel laureates, 400-plus U.S. civil society organizations, 250 international organizations and over 100 international intellectual policy academics






*All U.S. events on Nov. 30 unless noted



1:00 PM


CHICAGO, IL two events

3:00 PM 

@ 103rd and Western

Time TBA

@ Location TBA



5:00 PM

@ Denver Public Library, east lawn

10 W. Fourteenth Ave. Pkwy



3:30 PM

@ Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School



Time TBA

@ Location TBA



5:15 PM

@ Times Square

Duffy Square area along 46th St.



6:15 PM

@ The World Trade Center

Corner of SW 2nd and Salmon



1:00 PM

@ UCSF, Parnassus Campus

505 Parnassus Ave.


WASHINGTON, DC two events

12:00 PM 

@ Foggy Bottom Metro

23rd and I St. NW 

1:30 PM 

@ White House

Pennsylvania Ave. & Lafayette Park




Barcelona, ES

Time and Date: TBA

Petition gathering


Belfast, NI

Time and Date: TBA

Petition gathering


Bilbao, ES

Time and Date: TBA

Petition gathering


Brussels, BE

November 30, 5:00 PM CET



Geneva, CH

November 30, ALL DAY 

8AM: Rally

9AM: International Press Conference

10AM-6PM: Picket @ Centre International de Conférences 

5PM-8PM Candlelight march


Geneva, CH

December 1, 9:00AM – 6:00PM 

Picket @ Centre International de Conférences


Geneva, CH

December 2, 9:00AM – 6:00PM

Picket @ Centre International de Conférences ATTEND 


Geneva, CH

December 3, 9:00AM – 6:00PM

Picket @ Centre International de Conférences


Jakarta, ID

November 30, 9:00 AM

Rally & March @ Embassy or Switzerland


London, UK

November 30, 11:00 AM

Photo stunt shaming the government for opposing the TRIPS waiver. 


Mbarara, UG

November 30, Time TBA 

Vigil & Moment of Silence @ Mbarara University Of Science & Technology


Melbourne, AU

November 30, 12:00 PM AEDT 

Vigil for Global Vaccine Justice. 


Online/Virtual Rally

November 23, 9:00 AM ET 

“WTO: DON’T TRADE WITH OUR LIVES!” Online Global Rally


Paris, FR

November 30, 6:00 PM ET

“La vie plutôt que les profits! Levez les brevets!” Rally & March


Sydney, AU 

November 22, 12:00 PM AEDT 

Rally to tell Pfizer: “End the Vaccine Monopoly!” 


Toronto, CA 

November 22, 4:00 PM ET 

“All Out for a PeoplesVaccine” Rally


Valencia, ES

Time and Date: TBA

Petition gathering


Vienna, AT

November 22-28 

Starting 11:00 AM Nov. 28 

Youth activists will hold a 7 day vigil outside the Ministry of Economics Stubenring


Vienna, AT

November 30, 6:00 PM

March & Rally