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UK and EU Risk Act of Self-Harm Unless They Lift Vaccine Patents

UN Human Rights Commissioner and former Irish President, Mary Robinson, has called on the UK and the EU to support a waiver of intellectual property for Covid-19 vaccines in an article for The Times Red Box this morning, joining calls of 174 former world leaders and Nobel laureates. This was prompted by news that US President Biden is considering supporting a proposal at the WTO that would temporarily suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents.

Mary Robinson asks European leaders “to put the collective right to safety for all ahead of everything else – and come together to end this pandemic.” This refers to Europe’s decision to block efforts led by South Africa and India and supported by over 100 countries to share the vaccine recipe.

She warns the health and economic costs of refusing a patent waiver “risks a senseless act of self-harm by Western Europe upon its citizens.”

Women and girls will “disproportionately bear the burden of vaccine inequity” as women “dominate informal sectors most harshly hit by the pandemic and who do the lion’s share of increased unpaid care” while girls “miss out on transformational educational opportunities”.

“Entrenching these problems for years threatens to undo decades of progress tackling gender inequality”, she warns.

Looking to the climate crisis, Mary Robinson said: “If European leaders are not willing to temporarily diverge from trade rules to end a pandemic, citizens will rightly ask how the international community can face up to the scale of action needed to save our planet.”

Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, has said “it is not enough to find a vaccine. We must make sure that citizens around the world have access to it.” Europe now needs to walk the talk and stop prioritising pharma profit over people. It can do this by reconsidering its position at the WTO table, and instead back worldwide calls to share the vaccine recipe.

Global Justice Now, as part of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, is calling for equal access to vaccines for everyone. This is the right thing to do, morally as well as politically. Choosing not to vaccinate low income countries could cost the global economy $9.2 trillion in GDP, leading the UK’s economy to contract by 5 per cent, and the EU by 6 per cent. It also increases the risk of new mutations springing up. Women have also gotten the short end of the stick with many taking on disproportionately heavy loads of unpaid work.

By backing the worldwide call to share the vaccine recipe, Europe will not only save millions of peoples’ lives in and outside of Europe, but also mitigate the risk to our economies and the current backslide in workplace gender equality.