Leaders from the “Quad” countries – the United States, Japan, India, and Australia – will hold their first in-person summit in Washington, DC, on September 24, amid a global Covid-19 vaccine shortage crisis and deeply inequitable access to vaccines. Three-quarters of the more than five billion vaccine doses administered worldwide have gone to just ten countries, according to the World Health Organization. While some rich governments have begun distributing third “booster” shots, only 2 percent of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated. Ahead of the summit, Human Rights Watch, along with Japanese nongovernmental organizations, called on Quad leaders to publicly and vocally support the TRIPS waiver, a proposal at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive global trade and intellectual property rules. In October 2020, India and South Africa proposed this TRIPS waiver for Covid-19 vaccines and related products until widespread vaccination is in place globally.
The waiver would help enable quicker and fairer access for low-income countries. More than 100 governments, including the US and Australia, support the TRIPS waiver. Japan's minister of foreign affairs, Toshimitsu Mogi, announced that Japan would not oppose the waiver, but did not endorse it. However, a handful of high-income countries, especially Germany, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland, have stalled the proposal. Pharmaceutical companies have not shied away from lobbying these governments about their own opposition to the waiver.
These wealthy governments are reducing life-saving health care to a tradeable commodity and using their power at the WTO to make the right to health subservient to the interests of the pharmaceutical industry and trade. Quad leaders should stand up and issue a joint public statement endorsing the TRIPS waiver at this week’s summit, and address the deep inequities in access to health products that can save lives. With new variants emerging and some evidence that repeat vaccine boosters may be needed, the TRIPS waiver will enable governments around the world to be prepared for a long-term response to Covid-19.
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