Decision could save lives in India and around the globe, leaders in Europe and other rich nations must follow suit
Oxfam welcomes the US decision to back the waiver of intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines.
“We awake today in India with some fresh new hope that there is a genuine solution possible ahead of us – that we have been heard – and that our country as well as others suffering the horrific effects of rampant Covid-19 infections and death will not be forgotten and left behind,” said Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India.
"I am in a city where every fifteen minutes a family is losing a loved one. I am in a country which is the world’s pharmacy hub and yet people here are dying, gasping for breath. There is no one I think in India who doesn’t know of friends or family or colleagues who have not had COVID-19. We are a country that is united in fearful expectation but now given a lifeline in the possibility of more vaccines, which India requires quickly and in large numbers. The US decision to back the waiver of intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines has taken us one step closer to having a true Peoples’ Vaccine – behind which India can throw its own manufacturing weight," Behar said.
India is detecting over 400,000 new cases every day. It’s health system simply isn’t able to cope. Millions registered for vaccines within three hours of the government opening a vaccination drive for citizens above 18 years. But the vaccine drive is now stumbling and faltering due to huge vaccine shortage.
Behar said Oxfam will continue to ramp up its humanitarian programming with local partners in India, delivering medical supplies like oxygen cannisters, oxymeters, beds and PPE equipment to over-whelmed hospitals and health centers. It is providing relief to the poor and vulnerable people through food, dry rations and livelihood support, and community education outreach.
“But even as we deliver life-saving aid and assistance, it is our part in the movement of global civil society to push openings into high-level negotiations – swinging in behind US political leadership – that will release the solutions of ensuring more vaccine production and availability,” he said.
“This bold decision by President Biden feels like the emergence of light at the end of a long dark tunnel for India and the world. Now we can begin to see the possibility of a breakthrough that must finally unlock the potential of vaccine production across the developing world,” he said.
“Qualified manufacturers here are ready to swing into production mode and start making hundreds of millions of doses, that should be made available to all for free. But for that to be possible we need the European Union and every rich country still blocking a waiver on intellectual property rules to join President Biden and over 100 countries and offer hope for India and many other countries that we are indeed not being left behind,” Behar said.
When the EU and India leaders meet on Saturday, May 8, Oxfam hopes Europe will signal its clear support for the TRIPS waiver. This should be echoed urgently by other rich nations who have so far blocked the proposal to remove the barriers to enable the urgent delivery of life-saving vaccines to the world. At the same time, they must also support the transfer of technologies through the World Health Organization Covid-19 Technology Access pool, invest strategically in manufacturing across the developing world and ensure the waiver applies not just to vaccines, but to all COVID-19 related technologies.
If vaccine patents are waived and the technology and know-how transferred, it will increase the scale and speed of vaccine rollout across the world. This would be especially critical for India where infections are soaring, vaccines are in short supply, and the country has significant untapped capacity to produce for India’s needs and for the rest of the world. India already produces 21% of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines and could be doing so much more. A TRIPS waiver would allow multiple actors, including in the Global South, to start production instead of concentrating manufacturing in the hands of a small number of patent holders.
Scaling up manufacturing, especially in developing countries will help us end the current vaccine apartheid. Rich countries representing just 16% of the world’s population have secured half of the leading vaccines. Of the 383 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines administered globally to date, nearly 50% went to just the US, EU, and UK, which together represent only 11% of the world’s population.