An international coalition of over 350 trade unions has renewed calls for politicians not to grant patents on Covid vaccinations.
It would lead to supply chain crisis and economic self-harm.
The World Trade Organization (WTO), trying to reach a consensus at a Geneva meeting, has this announcement.
Critics claim that the acceleration of the introduction of vaccines requires more than the waiver of patents.
WTO members are trying to find the right way to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the entire world and end the pandemic. If this is done successfully, it would be possible to remove restrictions that are hindering economic growth.
Last week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that there could be a $5.3tn (£3.9tn) cost to the global economy over the next five years, if the world fails to close the massive gap in vaccination rates between advanced economies and poorer nations.
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India and South Africa have been the forefront of calls for relaxation in intellectual property laws governing vaccines, and other tools to combat the pandemic.
This would allow for faster vaccine rollout. A waiver is opposed by the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland and the European Union.
The International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF) is leading the coalition of trade unions.
Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the ITWF, says that these politicians are hell-bent on socio-economic self harm to further enrich the pockets Pfizer and Moderna billionaires.
It’s utter madness, these leaders hold the recovery for the rest of world at ransom.”
They are concerned about the lack of vaccine access for many of their 11 million members, who represent 113 countries. The coalition warns that the collapse of the global transportation system is imminent if there are not enough vaccinated workers.
Cotton asserts that there is an existing threat to personal safety of transport workers, but also to supply chain resilience, reinvigoration, and access to vaccinations globally.
Supply chains can be vulnerable because only 31% out of the world’s 1,4 million seafarers are vaccinated.
Global trade is a vital part of their lives, as 90% of the goods they carry are by sea. They continue to face restrictions despite not being vaccinated.
This means more than 100,000 personnel on the cargo ships are at sea past the contract’s expiry. According to Global Maritime Forum, 14,000 workers have been trapped for more than 11 months.
The largest contributors to seafarers’ global numbers are developing economies like the Philippines, India, Indonesia and Ukraine. This group is particularly in need of a waiver on intellectual property rules due to its low level of vaccinations.
Pharmaceutical giants argue that speeding up the rollout of vaccines is more complicated than simply waiving these rules. Expanding production requires more than just the ability to create the vaccine. It also means that you need skills and knowledge in order to produce the raw material.
Pfizer, who worked alongside BioNTech on the vaccine’s development, said that vaccine production requires a biological process. This means it is extremely complex and involves using 280 materials and components from 19 different nations.
Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive wrote in an open letter that one of the greatest obstacles to expanding manufacturing was “scarcity highly specialised materials”. This is something Pfizer has worked hard at addressing. Pfizer says that it continues to boost vaccine production.
Noubar Afeyan (co-chairman of Moderna) told Associated Press last week that many people who requested to share their technology believed it would be difficult to increase capacity. But, in truth, we know how to.”
Both the companies claim that they made great efforts to reach poorer and richer countries with their vaccines.
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Moderna spent $2.5bn over 10 years to develop the technology for its vaccine, while Pfizer spent $2bn long before it realized it would succeed.
This type of investment is what the European Union considers encourageable when intellectual property rights are protected. That is why it opposed any waiver.
The spokesperson for the European Commission told BBC that “Our goal was to find pragmatic solutions to ensure the fastest and widest distribution of Covid vaccines.”
According to them, it’s trying to cooperate with WTO partners in order to increase access to Covid therapies and vaccines.
Another solution is compulsory licensing technology from private businesses, where government forces them to make use of it under specific conditions.
According to the UK, the government is playing a “leading role” in global efforts to develop and distribute Covid vaccines and will “carefully review” any proposals submitted at the WTO.
But, any WTO deal requires agreement from all 164 member countries. Many are yet to disclose which side of this argument they stand on.
As the largest economy in the world, the US has a lot of influence at Geneva. The administration of President Biden supports the waiver. It believes that negotiations are at an important juncture, but is concerned about the possibility that real compromises will not be achieved.
The spokesperson for the US Trade Representative told BBC that the US was doing all it could to make sure everyone has vaccines. More vaccinations will help end the pandemic.
Their efforts at WTO were just part of a larger effort to assist the developing countries.
Officials from trade say that there have been encouraging signs, but it is too late to come up with an agreement before the WTO ministerial conference in November.