They are Prolonging Covid-19

As the world enters the third year of the covid-19 crisis, two battles are underway. One is led by the carers of the world in overcrowded hospitals, fighting to end the pandemic. Another is by corporate executives in closed boardrooms, fighting to prolong it.

Big pharmaceutical companies are letting the pandemic go on—and why not, according to a recent estimate, Pfizer is expected to make astronomical profits—$107bn in cumulative sales by the end of 2022 on its COVID-19 vaccines, now being dubbed a “megablockbuster.” Key to this is complete control over production, price, and profit. If more of global factories, wherever they might be, could start producing vaccines for the people in their countries, companies like Pfizer would lose their monopoly.

Right now, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is considering a proposal that would temporarily waive patent protections on vaccine recipes. Over 164 countries have supported it. But the pharmaceutical industry is fighting back, hard—through the governments it lobbies. The European Union, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, and Singapore have successfully blocked it for over a year.

There is a ray of hope in a ‘hopeless situation’ as a new global movement is readying its fight: 2.5 million nurses are taking these ‘COVID-19 criminals’ to court. In an unprecedented move, unions from 28 countries, coordinated by the Global Nurses United and the Progressive International—have filed a complaint with the United Nations alleging human rights violations by these countries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a detailed letter addressed to Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Physical and Mental Health, dozens of nursing unions noted that “the end of this pandemic is nowhere in sight” as “Covid-19 cases continue to soar in numerous parts of the world, while pharmaceutical companies and governments have failed to ensure that critical treatments and vaccines are distributed equitably in order to respond to the pandemic.”

“This unequal distribution of vaccines is not only grossly unjust for the people in low- and moderate-income countries who remain at high risk for contracting and further transmitting Covid-19, it also provides for the possibility for the development of new variants, some of which may be resistant to the current available vaccines…. The development and spread of new variants pose a dire risk to all people around the world.”

The complaint specifically targets the European Union, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, and Singapore, wealthy nations that have stonewalled the patent waiver at the WTO, defying the will of a majority of that institution’s member countries.

By blocking the patent waiver, the small group of rich nations is “endangering millions of lives around the world”.

Coordinated by Global Nurses United and Progressive International, the nurses’ UN complaint was submitted as scientists and political leaders worldwide grappled with the potential threat posed by Omicron, the fifth corona virus strain to be designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation . First detected in Botswana, cases of the variant have since been identified in South Africa, Australia, Israel, the UK, Canada, and elsewhere.

In truth the proliferation of variants is a predictable outcome of rich nations’ refusal to “distribute vaccines and treatments equitably to the vast majority of people of low- and moderate-income countries.”

High-income countries have procured upwards of 7 billion confirmed vaccine doses, while low income countries have only been able to procure approximately 300 million doses. This has created what public health advocates around the world have described as ‘vaccine apartheid.'

Continued opposition to the TRIPS waiver is resulting in the violation of human rights of peoples across the world. The nurses’ complaint is not simply a legal fight: it is a radical call to expose and defeat the governments that have been holding the lives of people hostage in order to service corporate super profits. The big pharmaceutical companies are hell bent on denying cheap vaccine to the poor nations. Not for nothing the Bill and Melinda gates Foundation urged Oxford to reverse their decision to share their vaccine technology with the world.

Drug multinationals have made their disregard for universal human rights and international law. It is now up to progressives around the world to reclaim the enormous power that the UN charter, the WTO, WHO, and international law hold, and deploy them as tools.


Back to Home Page

Vol 54, No. 27, Jan 2 - 8, 2022