Suspend Covid-19 patents during the pandemic

Rich countries including the UK have blocked producers worldwide from manufacturing their own vaccines for over a year now. The WTO's ministerial summit has been postponed, but Boris Johnson’s government still has an opportunity to change course and be on the right side of history. Ministers don't need to meet physically to agree this change which would make another dangerous variant emerging in the future less likely.

Business as usual has brought the world devastating vaccine apartheid. High-income countries like the UK have ordered many times the number of doses they need, while only 5% of people in low-income countries have received a single dose.

We are in this situation because big pharma companies hold patents on vaccines, treatments and health technologies and prevent other manufacturers from making more. But we can change this.

Join us in writing to the UK government and the permanent representative of the UK to the World Trade Organisation asking to back the proposal for the suspension of patents during the pandemic.

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Global trade rules impose powerful monopoly rights for big pharma. This artificially restricts supply and sustains high medicine prices allowing big pharma to profit and sell to the highest bidder. Countries with the most money will get Covid-19 vaccines and treatments first, leaving countries in the global south without. This is bad enough during normal times but during a global pandemic, this is simply unacceptable.

The first initiative to address this is Costa Rica and the World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) an initiative where pharmaceutical companies, universities and research institutions can share medical technologies, manufacturing know-how and intellectual property. Across the whole pandemic, only one research institution or company has submitted Covid-19 technology to C-TAP, with pharma companies prioritising monopoly profits and governments refusing to press them.

The second is the proposal from the governments of South Africa and India to temporarily suspend intellectual property rights and trade secret rules during the pandemic so that more manufacturers are able to start producing vaccines, tests and treatments to tackle the virus. To pass, all WTO members need to vote in favour of it and while over 100 countries are supporting it, the UK is one of the few remaining opposers.

We need the UK Government to listen to what the countries on the frontline of the inequity in access to Covid-19 tools are calling for and enable them to make their own vaccines. We have the vaccine because we brought the lion’s share. We can’t now prevent other countries from making their own.

Photo: Jess Hurd