Monday - 01.03.2021
17:30 - 19:00 CET
Bob van Benthem Platz 1
Hashtags: #NoCovidMonopolies #ZeroCovid #TRIPS
On 1 March, amidst the World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations to temporarily enable States to suspend intellectual property rights related to the combat against the COVID-19 pandemic, the General Council, the highest day-to-day decision-making body of the WTO, will reconvene. Besides the U.S., Japan, Brazil, Switzerland or Norway, the European Union, with its 27 member states, blocks the proposal initiated by India and South Africa to implement a waiver for the reigning international legal agreement on IP rights (TRIPS).
While approaches to make technologies more available by means of the patent and technology pool C-TAP and to distribute vaccines fairly by the COVAX program have so far miserably failed, the waiving of IP rights would be a first step towards making the technologies available and reducing dependencies of the global south on the global north and its enterprises.
Support for the TRIPS waiver proposal initiated by India and South Africa. So far 36 out of 164 member states have declared their opposition. Normally decisions in the WTO are taken by consensus. However, a decision by a three-fourths majority would also be possible, which could only be blocked by 42 votes.
The European Patent Office (EPO) is a pivotal institution laying the ground for the monopolization of pharmaceutical manufacturing within Europe, but also globally due to its central role within the International Patent Cooperation Union. Its political significance for global health justice has only seldomly become manifest to a broader public, for example in the recent appeal by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and Médecins du Monde against the patent on the hepatitis C drug Sofosbuvir. It is for this reason that #ZeroCovid Munich has decided to turn the headquarters of the EPO into a site of political contestation, to express the support of the Zero Covid campaign for the TRIPS waiver proposal by India and South Africa and to challenge the monopolization of pharmaceutical goods in the pandemic and beyond.
The Munich region as a business location is also home to the Strüngmann family, owning the majority of BioNTech shares, which has acquired its wealth by selling generic drugs produced by their company Hexal but now directly profits from the monopolization of the BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, and the pharmaceutical company, Dermapharm, which has acquired one of the rare production licenses for the vaccine. To secure the monopoly positions of pharmaceutical enterprises and their monopoly profits, the patent system creates artificial scarcities and hinders the production to the detriment of public health, especially concerning people in less solvent countries of the global south.
Making vaccines a global common good has been one out of five core demands of the Zero Covid petition. Global massive and equitable vaccination is a key component for fighting the pandemic effectively. On the other hand, it has been precisely the ineffectiveness or lack of strategies in fighting the pandemic in the EU, UK, and the US so far, which has resulted in the illusory reliance on being able to overcome the pandemic by vaccination alone, neglecting more diligent and more socially equitable non-pharmaceutical measures. Even a rapid expansion of vaccine production by State-enforced suspension of patents, publishing of production manuals, and international coordination of supply chains would face its limits.
By countering the “flatten the curve” approach in the EU, UK, and the US with a Zero Covid strategy, the campaign aims at confronting the socio-political conditions of the deadly failure of the reigning policies, especially the continuity of operation of factories, offices, and other working places and schools at any price (including the health of the employees and the students), the negligence concerning the precarious living conditions of refugees, the homeless and impoverished people and the lack of a global perspective acknowledging Europe’s special responsibility for the conditions of fighting the pandemic in the global south.
Even the EU itself faces vaccine shortages due to vaccine production capacities limited by private monopolization. However, the lack of supply for the global south and the WHO COVAX program becomes even more aggravated by the European exclusive reliance on vaccination, pursued by nationalist means. However, even from the perspective of European interests ensuring the global distribution of vaccines is one of our best chances to hinder the mutation dynamic and stop the virus from replicating. The rapidly evolving nature of the coronavirus proves once again that this crisis can only be solved in a joint global effort.