Coffins to be carried at Whitehall in protest against UK blocking vaccine waiver

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Protests will take place at Whitehall and in Edinburgh (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)
Protests will take place at Whitehall and in Edinburgh (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

Campaigners will carry coffins down Whitehall to protest against the UK’s blocking of a waiver for the patent of the Covid-19 vaccine ahead of make-or-break talks.

Last year, India and South Africa proposed that the World Trade Organization (WTO) suspend its enforcement of patents for coronavirus vaccines and treatments so that the inoculation could reach poorer countries.

It has been a call backed by more than 100 nations, human rights groups including Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, and prominent figures such as former prime minister Gordon Brown who say that nobody is safe from coronavirus until everybody is safe.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have also backed a separate but related campaign calling on G7 countries and the European Union to share at least one billion Covid-19 vaccine doses with those most in need and support calls for a waiver on vaccine intellectual property rights.

But the UK, European Union, and Switzerland have opposed the move.

And campaign group Global Justice Now says that since last October, when the waiver was first proposed, 3.5 million people have died from Covid-19, averaging more than 10,000 deaths a day.

The US had also previously been against a patent waiver, but President Joe Biden has since backed the proposal.

And Global Justice Now said with a likely change in government in Germany – which it says had been behind the EU’s opposition – the UK could end up being one of the only countries against a waiver.

The WTO’s intellectual property council meets again on Wednesday to discuss the idea.

Tim Bierley, pharma campaigner at Global Justice Now, said: “For more than a year, the UK has obstructed efforts to scale up the world’s vaccine supply, forcing the global south to rely on donations that are always too little and too late.

“Not only has the British Government grabbed far more vaccines than we need, they’re actively working to stop low and middle-income countries producing their own vaccines. It’s shameful.

“Intellectual property and trade secrets are two of the biggest barriers to increasing global vaccine manufacturing. But the British Government has doggedly defended a system that allows the rich world to hoard vaccines, while millions die in poorer countries.”

The group said that the UK has vaccinated more people than 132 countries combined.

According to Global Justice Now, the UK alone has fully vaccinated 45.05 million people from a population of 68.2 million.

This was compared to a total of 44.2 million from 132 countries with a combined population of more than one billion.

And the group will hold protests on Tuesday by carrying coffins down Whitehall in London, while in Edinburgh protesters in funeral attire will hold a white flower wreath reading ‘shame’ outside the British Government’s Scotland office.

Mr Bierley said: “These figures demonstrate the horrifying scale of vaccine apartheid – and 10,000 are dying each day as a result.

“At tomorrow’s WTO meeting, the UK must stop holding up efforts to waive vaccine intellectual property and Boris Johnson must give up his reckless indifference to mounting global Covid deaths.”

A Government spokesperson said: “The UK is proud to be playing a leading role in the global effort to create and distribute Covid-19 vaccines.

“We are engaging constructively with WTO members on the waiver issue and will carefully review any proposal submitted to the TRIPs Council (Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), but we need to act now to expand vaccine production and distribution worldwide.

“The UK wants to push ahead with pragmatic action, including voluntary licensing and technology transfer agreements for vaccines, support for Covax, and solutions for production bottlenecks and supply chain issues.”

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