(New York, NY) — Dozens of New York activists gathered this evening outside Pfizer World Headquarters to condemn the company’s pandemic profiteering and its role in leading industry moves to prevent the World Trade Organization (WTO) from granting a temporary waiver of its “TRIPS “ intellectual property rules so that generic COVID-19 vaccines, tests, therapeutics, and other technologies can be mass-produced around the world. They then marched to the UN Missions of Canada, the European Union, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom where they held remembrance vigils for those around the world who’ve died from COVID-19, and staged symbolic die-ins with cardboard tombstones listing Global South countries with high death numbers.
At these Missions, participants called out these countries and their leaders for supporting Big Pharma’s position and blocking the WTO TRIPS waiver process from proceeding. The protestors called on them to instead support a proposal from India and South Africa, supported by over 100 countries to negotiate a temporary and robust waiver of WTO rules on pharmaceutical production.
The New York City event–organized by Free the Vaccine, ACT UP New York, Center for Popular Democracy Action, Citizens Trade Campaign, Health GAP, March for the Dead, Metro New York Health Care for All, and Rise and Resist–is one of similar events being held in various US cities over the coming days in the run-up to a key WTO meeting taking place next week from June 8-9. At this meeting, national governments will discuss waiving intellectual property rights to enable more COVID-19 vaccine, diagnostic and treatment production. Canada, the EU, France, Germany, and the UK are among the last holdouts against such waiver negotiations moving forward quickly so that they can conclude over the early summer.
“While we New Yorkers increasingly have widespread access to COVID-19 vaccination, huge numbers of people around the world are being blocked from accessing a vaccine by wealthy countries and pharmaceutical companies. Low- and middle-income countries aren’t expected to have access to a vaccine until 2024unless global production is dramatically increased,” said Mark Hannay, Executive Director of Metro New York Health Care for All. “We’re calling on these rich countries to stop blocking the TRIPS Waiver and letting people die unnecessarily. ”
“Over 12,000 people are dying every day from COVID-19. That number would be far lower if vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments were more widespread,” said Dr. Steve Auerbach, New York State Lead for Right to Health Action. “Every day of delay on a temporary TRIPS waiver means more needless illness and death, more families pushed into poverty, more populations subject to public health lockdowns, more national economies pushed into serious recessions, and greater chances of a viral mutation that can evade current vaccines emerging, thereby restarting a pandemic all over again for everyone everywhere.”
“The European Union and rich countries including Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom are blocking global access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and medicines – even asking for more time to review a proposal from South Africa and India that’s been discussed since October,” said Emily Sanderson, from Health GAP. “But time isn’t all they’re killing. More than 1 million people have died of COVID-19 since G7 leaders met in February. It’s time they deliver on their promise to ensure global access to life-saving vaccines by supporting an intellectual property waiver at the World Trade Organization.”
“Around the world, countries with the greatest wealth are getting the greatest access to COVID vaccines, while less wealthy nations are left behind,” said Vinay Krishnan, National Field Organizer for the Center for Popular Democracy. “If this COVID era has taught us anything, it is that we are all interconnected and that no one is safe until everyone is safe. We marched to the EU, UK, Germany, and Canada consulates to demand these countries support the TRIPS waiver, share every tool at their disposal, and ensure the world is vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
“Twenty years ago, everyday AIDS activists pioneered the use of the TRIPS waiver process to stem the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the Global South. It was also a fight against medical apartheid,” said Jason Rosenberg of ACT UP New York. “There’s no question that we must do that again now as quickly as possible in this current global pandemic because none of us is safe until all of us are safe.”
The United States, Russia, and China recently announced their support for a TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, joining over 100 other nations that have earlier backed the concept. Canada, the EU, France, Germany, and the UK, all rich countries with good vaccination programs and rates, are becoming increasingly isolated in their opposition to a waiver and supporting Big Pharma’s position instead.
Photos from today’s action are available here.