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THE government must use its presidency of the G7 to help speed up the supply of vaccines to Covid-stricken countries, unions are demanding, as campaigners step up calls for a “people’s vaccine.”
In today’s joint letter to Trade Secretary Liz Truss, the heads of the TUC and its European counterpart the ETUC are insisting on urgent action to help global South countries fight off a devastating new wave of coronavirus cases.
The call, backed by the International Trade Union Confederation and the Trade Union Advisory Committee, presses Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States to come to the aid of countries like India, which is recording hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 cases each day.
The letter, also signed by other G7 unions, warns that the “high cost” of purchasing intellectual property rights for patented vaccines is exacerbating Covid-19’s “catastrophic effect” on the third world.
The call comes after the World Health Organisation warned last month that just 0.3 per cent of the more than one billion coronavirus vaccines administered so far have been in “lower-income” countries.
More than 100 nations including India, South Africa and China are calling for patents to be waived, but the proposal, also backed by most of Latin America and the whole of Africa, has been blocked by the G7, the European Union and Australia.
Britain has committed £548 million to a new global fundraising drive for Covax, an international distributor of vaccines with a remit to try to ensure equitable access, but campaigners warn charitable schemes such as this will not tackle the systemic inequalities created by the patents system.
As Britain holds the rotating presidency of the G7 this year, the TUC points out Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ideally placed to use his government’s influence within the group and the World Trade Organisation to encourage countries to support a waiver.
General secretary Frances O’Grady said there was a “shared interest” in inoculating the global population equitably as “nobody is safe from this disease until all the world is safe.”
She added: “The government must help end the humanitarian crisis in the global South.
“That means working with other G7 nations to waive intellectual property rights so all nations can easily access and manufacture low-cost supplies of the vaccine.
“Covid-19 does not respect borders or patents. The last thing we need is vaccine nationalism and protectionism.
“There is a huge danger of new strains developing if our leaders do not act quickly and decisively.”
Global Justice Now senior campaigns and policy manager Heidi Chow warned that workers would bear the brunt of “vaccine apartheid.”
She said: “Unions have led the way in protecting jobs and livelihoods through this pandemic. When they speak up against vaccine inequality, G7 leaders must listen.
“We need to remove artificial barriers caused by intellectual property rules. We need a people’s vaccine.”
A parliamentary petition backing the move had reached nearly 4,000 signatures before the Morning Star went to press.
A government spokesperson said ministers’ commitment to equitable vaccine access was demonstrated by Britain’s involvement in the Covax scheme, but any moves to quicken the global rollout should take place within the “existing intellectual property framework.”
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