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Action on vaccine inequity

Published: 09 Dec 2021 14:11

First Minister calls on UK Government to act

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging the UK Government to address international vaccine inequity.

The letter asks the UK Government to join over 100 countries in supporting a temporary waiver of obligations to protect Intellectual Property for COVID-19 vaccines.

The First Minister said: “The waiver would facilitate critical access to patents, technology and know-how to enable the expansion of vaccine manufacturing and distribution in developing countries. Vaccines have not been allocated evenly – at December 2021, only 6.2% of people in low income countries had received at least one dose.

“By waiving patent protection for COVID-19 vaccines, countries will be able to make full use of the manufacturing capacity that is available globally. Ensuring equitable access to vaccine supplies is essential to ensuring as many people as possible are protected, as quickly as possible. The exceptional circumstances presented by the COVID-19 pandemic call for all available measures to be used in order to end this crisis.”

 

The full text of the letter is below:

 

Dear Prime Minister

The Covid-19 vaccination programme has been a great success across all 4 nations of the UK, with 81% of the population 12 and over having received two doses of the vaccine. Recent research from WHO highlights fast and early progress on the Covid-19 vaccination programme has averted 27,000 deaths in Scotland and 142,000 deaths in England in the over 60s.

It is, however, important to recognise Covid-19 is an unprecedented global crisis, leaving no part of the world unaffected. This crisis calls for an unprecedented global response. I would like to emphasise our commitment to international solidarity, and to working together on this shared challenge to help the rest of the world protect their people.

In response to this unique challenge, since the start of the pandemic, the Scottish Government has allocated £3.5 million of our international development budget to Covid support for our partner countries of Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and Pakistan. We have provided funding to support vaccine preparedness and delivery, including £2 million to UNICEF to help with distribution, roll-out and online healthcare education.  We are also committing a further £1.5 million from our international development budget this financial year specifically for initiatives responding to Covid-19 in Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia. 

The emergence of the new Omicron variant is a stark reminder we need the world to be vaccinated, to protect lives globally but also at home. A high global vaccination rate is our best protection against this pandemic. Creating the conditions for equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines is essential.

The UK’s participation in COVAX is an important step in helping other nations accessing lifesaving Covid-19 vaccines. However, the levels of contributions to the programme have so far fallen short of providing vaccines to enough people globally. The initial aim of making  2 billion doses available by the end of 2021 is likely to be missed.

I, therefore, support a waiver under the TRIPS Agreement for Covid-19 vaccines as an important part of our collective efforts to address the ongoing global health crisis. The waiver would facilitate critical access to patents, technology and know-how to enable the expansion of vaccine manufacturing and distribution in developing countries. Vaccines have not been allocated evenly – at December 2021, only 6.2% of people in low income countries had received at least one dose. By waiving patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines, countries will be able to make full use of the manufacturing capacity that is available globally. Ensuring equitable access to vaccine supplies is essential to ensuring as many people as possible are protected, as quickly as possible. The exceptional circumstances presented by the Covid-19 pandemic call for all available measures to be used in order to end this crisis.

I urge the UK government to end its opposition at the WTO and to join over 100 countries who are now supportive of a temporary TRIPS waiver.

NICOLA STURGEON

 

Background

Developing countries have been calling for a Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement waiver for Covid-19 health technologies since October 2020. The TRIPS Agreement governs the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights upheld by WTO members. The TRIPS waiver would allow member state governments to waive intellectual property rights protections held by pharmaceutical companies for all health products and technologies needed to prevent, contain or treat Covid-19 for a period of at least three years.

The Scottish Government has allocated £3.5 million of its international development budget to COVID support for partner countries Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and Pakistan. It has also provided £2 million to UNICEF to help with vaccine distribution, roll-out and online healthcare education.