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Open letter: UK government must support proposal to suspend intellectual property during pandemic

10 Mar 21
This article is more than one year old

Open letter: UK government must support proposal to suspend intellectual property during pandemic

Dear Boris Johnson,

CC. Kwasi Kwarteng, Liz Truss, Dominic Raab and Matt Hancock

We, the undersigned UK-based business leaders, academics, economists and trade unions are writing to urge the UK government to support a proposal led by India and South Africa, endorsed by over 100 other countries, at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend global intellectual property (IP) protection on COVID-19 medical technologies during this pandemic.

The world is facing a catastrophe around vaccine access. Over 75% of the global vaccinations that have been administered, have taken place in just 10 countries. Meanwhile, around 130 countries, with 2.5 billion people, are yet to administer a single dose. We are facing stark vaccine inequality because pharmaceutical monopolies are creating artificial scarcity and undermining equitable access. The new vaccines cannot be widely produced by as many manufacturers as possible because of monopolies created by patents and the guarding of technological know-how. Unless we address this, there will not be enough supplies to vaccinate the world quickly and equitably.

The proposal to waive IP protection related to COVID-19 medical technologies will help increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, tests and personal protective equipment (PPE) by enabling more countries, companies and institutions to produce these life-saving tools.

Making sure all countries are able to access COVID-19 medical products by unlocking manufacturing capacity globally is a moral, epidemiological and economic imperative. You have recognised that “no one is safe until everyone is safe”. But the emergence of new variants of COVID-19 are already threatening the effectiveness of vaccines used in the UK and could undermine government efforts to protect the population. Required changes to existing vaccines and the likelihood that regular booster vaccinations will be needed will only increase the catastrophic vaccine scarcity we face today.

Unequal global access to vaccines this year is predicted to cost the global economy $9 trillion, with half of this borne by a handful of rich nations, including the UK. This would mean further devastation to businesses, jobs and wellbeing in the UK as well as in other parts of the world. It will be particularly harmful for UK businesses reliant on international supply-chains, trade and tourism. Ensuring enough vaccines can be made for everyone on the planet must be a key pillar in the UK’s economic recovery plan. Instead of vaccine scarcity, we need a people’s vaccine - a global public good that is accessible to all.

The UK government has invested £337 million in COVID-19 vaccine research and development (R&D), manufacturing and distribution, including £65.5 million for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. These upfront commitments of public funds have facilitated rapid access to this vaccine for the British population, but we are concerned they could be in vain if we do not also ensure access to COVID-19 vaccines for other countries at the same time. Leaving COVID-19 to spread uncontrollably in other parts of the world is not only immoral, but it is deeply self-defeating.

The UK has recognised that we need to take steps now to tackle this and future pandemics, with pandemic preparedness and international collaboration a priority for the upcoming G7 presidency. In order to do this effectively, facilitating the utilisation and expansion of local manufacturing capacity for the development and production of medical products, including vaccines, in low and middle income countries must be a priority. The proposal to waive IP protection related to COVID-19 medical technologies at the WTO would overcome the legal barriers to the scale up of COVID-19 medical products by other manufacturers around the world. In addition, increasing local capacity in the development, production and supply of COVID-19 technologies also requires companies to share technology and know-how, particularly with manufacturers in low- and middle-income countries, in order to facilitate equitable access.

This proposed IP waiver is temporary until the world has reached herd immunity and would only be applied to COVID-19 medical technologies. We are living through an unprecedented pandemic where thousands of lives are lost daily from COVID-19, and many more from the devastating impacts on other health issues and on livelihoods. We cannot continue with business as usual.

The IP waiver will be discussed at the upcoming formal session of the TRIPS Council at the WTO on the 11th and 12th March 2021.

We strongly urge the UK to support this proposal.

Yours Sincerely,

Patricia Alexander - Managing Director, Shared Interest

Jane Anderson - Consultant Physician in HIV Medicine, Homerton University Hospital

Shawky Arif - Senior Lecturer in International Development, University of Northampton

Richard Brindle - Group CEO and Chairman, Fidelis Insurance

Professor Laura Camfield - Head of the School of International Development (DEV), University of East Anglia (UEA)

Darren Chetty - Teaching Fellow, University College London (UCL)

Gordon Cooper – Non-Executive Director, TCC Global

Manuel Cortes - General Secretary, Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA) Professor

Anthony Costello - Professor of Global Health and Sustainable Development, UCL

Philip Dearden - Head of Centre for International Development and Training (CIDT), University of Wolverhampton

Dr Rageshri Dhairyawan - Consultant physician in HIV Medicine, Barts Health NHS Trust, Honorary Senior Lecturer Queen Mary University of London (QMUL)

Graham Dutfield - Professor of Law, University of Leeds

Stefan Elbe - Professor of International Relations, University of Sussex

Alfredo Saad Filho - Head of Department of International Development, King's College London

Sandeep Ghela - Chief Operating Officer and Member, Independent Franchise Partners

Michael Gidney - Chief Executive, The Fairtrade Foundation UK

Jean Grugel - Professor of Development Politics/Director of Interdisciplinary Global Development Centre, University of York

Andrew Hayward - Director, UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care

Dr Jason Hickel - Senior Lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London

Dr Andrew Hill - Senior Visiting Research Fellow, University of Liverpool

Ian Hodson - National President, Bakers’, Food & Allied Workers Union (BFAWU)

Pramila Krishnan - Professor of Development Economics, University of Oxford

Melissa Leach - Director, Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex

Anne Roemer-Mahler - Associate Professor in International Relations, University of Sussex

Tony Matharu – Chairman and Founder, Integrity International Group (IIG)

Christina McAnea - General Secretary, UNISON

John Paul Mchugh - Assistant General Secretary, Community Union

Susan Michie - Professor of Health Psychology, UCL Dr

Gavin Morgan - Psychologist, UCL; Member of government SAGE committee, SPi-B

Sevan Nigogosian - Founder and Creative Director, GAROGOSI Glacier Wears Professor

Chloe Orkin - Professor of HIV Medicine and Clinical Director, Barts Health Vaccine Centre

Imri Schattner-Ornan - Senior Lecturer, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSHTM)

Ann Phoenix - Professor of Psychosocial Studies, UCL

Dr Fifa Rahman - Permanent NGO Representative, Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) Facilitation Council, affiliated to Health Poverty Action, UK

Imran Rasul - Professor of Economics, UCL

Michael Schwaabe – President, Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) Council 7

Mark Serwotka - General Secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union

Frances Stewart - Emeritus Professor of Development Economics, University of Oxford

Els Torreele - Visiting Policy Fellow, Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, UCL

Professor Michael Walls – Development Planning Unit (DPU) Director and Professor of Development Politics and Economy, UCL

Clare Wenham - Assistant Professor of Global Health Policy, London School of Economics (LSE)

Mohga Kamal-Yanni - Senior Policy Advisor to The People’s Vaccine Alliance

Andrew Copson - Chief Executive, Humanists UK

Dr Mark Eccleston-Turner - Lecturer in Global Health Law, Keele University

Dr Shema Tariq - HIV Doctor and Researcher, UCL Institute for Global Health (IGH)

Ask the UK Government to support the proposal

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