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WTO Going on Lengthy Vacation Without Progress on Vaccine Intellectual Property Barriers Is a Shocking Moral, Political and Economic Failure

WTO Starts Vacation Without Progress TRIPS Waiver As COVID-19 Delta Variant Decimates Unvaccinated Global South and Reverses U.S. Gains

For Immediate Release:
July 27, 2021

Contact: Mike Stankiewicz, mstankiewicz@citizen.org, (202) 588-7742

WASHINGTON, D.C. – It’s a moral, political, public health and economic failure that Member Nations insist the World Trade Organization (WTO) shut down for a six-week vacation without any progress on waiving WTO intellectual property barriers that now undermine the production scale-up of COVID-19 medicines and vaccines, said members of U.S. Congress, frontline worker unions, and health and development groups.

As vulnerable countries struggle with the Delta-variant and a third COVID wave, WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, urged WTO ambassadors to shorten their usual six-week summer holiday to focus on pressing issues like the waiver. “With so many lives on the line, profits and patents must come second,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said last week.

“I was glad to see President Biden and Ambassador Tai put patients ahead of drug company profits by announcing support for suspending exclusive intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.  But we still need the WTO to reach a global agreement – not take an extended vacation from work that will help save lives.”
– U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

“With a third wave of COVID-19 raging in many parts of the world and the deadly Delta variant becoming the dominant strain here in the US, we are in dire need of a TRIPS waiver NOW to ensure scaled-up production of needed vaccines throughout the world. The lack of urgency at the World Trade Organization is confounding. Now is the time for decisive action, and close cooperation with our allies around the globe, and that cannot be achieved if the WTO goes on vacation for a month. We need shots in arms, and we need them now. Because if the virus exists anywhere, we are unsafe everywhere. We cannot allow the WTO to prioritize Big Pharma profits over human lives. Their failure to act will have a devastating and lasting impact on people throughout the globe.”
– U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.)

“With each passing day, the evidence becomes clearer: if we are going to crush the virus anywhere, we must make vaccines available everywhere. The TRIPS waiver is key to ending the pandemic, and the global community cannot wait any longer. With the Delta variant spreading rapidly both at home and abroad, the World Trade Organization must act with urgency and put public health over profits.”
– U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT.)

“We cannot allow TRIPS to trip up our efforts to vaccinate the world against this deadly virus, just as we cannot allow the European bloc to block continued negotiations. Patients around the world cannot take a vacation from COVID-19 and the World Trade Organization should not take a vacation from its work until this matter is fully resolved.  Member Nations should adhere to the Director General’s call to remain in session until an agreement has been reached to protect the health and wellbeing of people around the world.”
– U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas)

“It’s shameful and unacceptable for the WTO to shut down for a six-week vacation while the world is being smashed by the surging delta variant and the WTO intellectual property barriers are an important part of why there are not nearly enough vaccines to ensure access for everyone around the world. To end the pandemic, we need the WTO intellectual property barriers to be waived, technology transfer to speeds up the use of the liberated IP, and significant funding to greatly increase production capacity in the Global South.”
– U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.)

“How possibly is the WTO shutting down for six weeks of vacation while WTO monopoly protections for pharmaceutical corporations remain an obstacle to scaling up the production of vaccines, tests and treatments needed to beat COVID and the Delta variant is burning a murderous path through a world where most people are literally dying for a vaccine but there simply is no supply. Until the WTO intellectual property barriers are waived, and governments force technology transfer and fund major new manufacturing capacity so the needed vaccines are made to inoculate the world, it will be one variant after another getting hatched if COVID rages anywhere and tens of thousands of needless deaths and economic crisis in most of the world where people are unvaccinated and endless cycles of lock-downs, economic distress, schools indefinitely closed and lives interrupted in the few privileged countries where immunization is happening. A lot of people around the world have at best a skeptical view of the WTO’s effectiveness and legitimacy, but if the organization continues to be an obstacle to combatting the worst health crisis in a century, it’s likely to be among COVID’s casualties.”
– Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division

“The Delta variant is tightening its deadly grip worldwide and will not be taking a holiday. With no time to waste, I hope WTO negotiators heed Dr. Ngozi’s request, cut the six-week holiday and fast track their approval of the urgently needed TRIPS waiver.”
– Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS

“As the nurses, healthcare professionals, educators, school staff and public employees who have worked tirelessly on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re deeply troubled by the rising number of COVID cases in unvaccinated areas of the world. While the Biden-Harris administration moved quickly and efficiently to immunize 57 percent of the U.S. population, the WTO is displaying a bewildering lack of urgency in instituting a TRIPS Waiver so COVID vaccines can reach areas of the world that need them most. We cannot afford to lose the race between the deadly Delta variant and life-saving vaccines.”
– Randi Weingarten, President of American Federation of Teachers

“While many people in rich countries are enjoying their ‘return to normal’ summer, many around the world are worried about surviving the summer. Now is not the time to relax, now is the time to get the political will to increase the supply of vaccines and facilitate their distribution to everyone, everywhere.”
– Abby Maxman, President and CEO of Oxfam America

“It is unconscionable that high income nations of the WTO would continue to turn their backs on people of the global South, desperate for immunity from the highly transmissible delta variant. Leaders of the EU, Germany, the UK–and by extension, the Biden Administration for abetting their TRIPS waiver obstruction–must stop their cruel and self-defeating indifference to vaccinating the world through suspending the monopolies of profiteering pharmaceutical companies.”
– Asia Russell, Executive Director of Health GAP (Global Access Project)

“The World Trade Organization’s failure to reach a timely consensus to share the recipe for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments with countries in the Global South is a moral failure that will result in untold death. Lives are on the line and every day that goes by without reaching global agreement on a patent waiver means more people lost to COVID-19. Failure lies at the feet of powerful countries – Germany and the United Kingdom – that choose to prioritize profit over human lives at the request of their domestic pharmaceutical industries. World Trade Organization delegates are about to take a vacation while a weary world suffers from this deadly virus. As people of faith, we believe elected officials have a sacred call to do justice and advance the common good. The WTO’s continued failure to reach an agreement on waiving intellectual property barriers for COVID-19 vaccines and treatment is neither.”
– Mary J. Novak, Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

“At AFSC, we hear loud and clear the voices of the communities with whom we work. Anguished voices from Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Guatemala, Palestine and beyond, calling for equity and justice as they battle COVID19 along with manifestations of poverty, conflict and climate change. From the grief and hardships caused by this pandemic we need a radical approach to build a new global community – one that prioritizes the health and wellbeing of all and puts people’s lives before privilege and before profit.  We cannot stop until all have access to vaccines.”
– Joyce Ajlouny, General Secretary of American Friends Service Committee

“As faith actors on the frontlines of the coronavirus, as we call on global leaders to approve the TRIPS waiver to facilitate the mass production of COVID-19 vaccines, we also stand ready to support each and every effort – together. It is time for the world to unite, deliver justice, and save lives. So we urge global leaders and institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization, to prioritize saving each and every life – all our efforts together will defeat the COVID-19 pandemic globally.”
– Dr. Azza Karam, Secretary General of Religions for Peace

“Just as Americans were starting to believe we had rounded a corner on the pandemic, the delta variant is serving as a wake-up call about how much work remains to be done.  But rather than rising to the moment, the WTO is instead hitting the snooze button.  The notion that those of us in the United States and Europe are somehow safe from COVID while variants are allowed to rage throughout the rest of the world for lack of vaccines and treatments is a deluded fantasy.  It’s long past time to approve the TRIPS waiver and enact a plan to vaccinate the world.”
– Arthur Stamoulis, Executive Director of Citizens Trade Campaign