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Editorial Patent waivers are what’s needed if the vaccination rate is to be increased

THE calls from medical scientists for vaccines to be extended to 12-year-olds — and the demand of Scottish teachers that schools be made safe for both staff and pupils — underline the dangers that we, and the rest of the world, currently face.  

In Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh infection rates are already some of the worst in Europe, as they are also in parts of south Wales and the north of England. 

In these areas there is a rising curve of infections — already and ahead of the winter. Scottish teachers are calling for action to break “lines of transmission.” Vaccination is one sure method.  

So also, however, are the other measures called for by the trade union movement: enhanced protection, higher levels of staffing and, most of all, detailed working with trade union representatives in the workplace.  

The priority of business, and government, is to get people back to work cheaply as possible. 

Getting children out of the home and into the classroom enables this. The ending of furlough in three weeks’ time will intensify the pressure. Workers are rightly resisting. 

Rail cleaning staff on Thameslink, DVLA drivers and GMB cleansing staff up and down the country are all demanding action to enhance protection and increase staffing levels. 

There is, however, another dimension to this story. Over the last weekend medical authorities in South Africa announced that they had identified yet another Covid variant. 

No-one yet knows whether this variant is relatively harmless or whether, like the delta variant, it could spark a new wave of infections worldwide.

What it highlights, however, is that across much of the world vaccination levels remain shockingly low. In Africa, at the beginning of August, they were little more than 2 per cent.

The same applies across large parts of south Asia. As long as this remains the case, mutation will continue and, as antibody effectiveness lessens, reignite the disease in countries such as our own. 

Earlier this summer the secretary-general of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, pointed out that those living in poor countries, 50 per cent of the world total, only had access to 17 per cent of the vaccines.

Being poor, they could not afford the prices being charged. He called on the world’s big pharmaceutical companies to waive their patent rights and allow their vaccines to be mass produced at minimum cost.  

Some countries such as China have provided vaccines either free or at very low prices. But negotiations among the rich capitalist nations have remained logjammed at the World Trade Organisation.

US President Joe Biden eventually supported a waiver but the European Commission did not — with France and Germany being host to some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies. 

As of August the British Medical Journal reported the level of those with just one vaccine dose in low-income countries remained below 7 per cent, with the problem not just being the vaccines themselves but also the equipment needed to deliver them.

The trade union movement in Britain is right to resist pressures to open up places of employment catering for large numbers of people, whether students or passengers on transport, without due protection and without vaccination. 

The People’s Assembly, meeting on September 12, is also right to call for the continuation of furlough and for the maintenance of the £20 uplift in universal credit.

Those most at risk are largely non-unionised, low-paid casual workers who now make over 12 per cent of the workforce. 

But it is just as important that our labour movement raises up the demand that pharmaceutical companies, including some in Britain, waive their patents on anti-Covid vaccines until all people across the world, rich and poor, have been vaccinated.


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