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Ahead of the WTO Ministerial, organizations deliver three million petitions urging Biden Administration to secure COVID-19 WTO TRIPS Waiver

Groups say failure to enact a meaningful WTO waiver to scale up production of COVID-19 Vaccines, treatments and tests will prolong the pandemic

As part of COVID-19 relief efforts last fall, AFSC staff and partners visited Mathare, an informal settlement in Kenya.  Photo: Martin Njuki

WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 23, 2021) Today members of Congress joined health, development, labor, and faith leaders to discuss the need for a COVID medicine waiver to save lives worldwide and their expectations for the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial. The organizations delivered three million petitions urging President Joe Biden to step up U.S. leadership to secure a temporary waiver of WTO intellectual property barriers that limit the supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostic tests necessary to end the pandemic.

The press conference comes ahead of the key Nov. 30 WTO Ministerial (MC12), a major meeting of high-level officials from around the world, and more than a year after a COVID emergency WTO waiver was first proposed. Today less than 7% of people in low-income nations have received a first COVID-19 vaccination shot. The petition delivery is part of actions taking place across the globe ahead of MC12 to demand a waiver. 

More than 100 countries – joined by health, labor, faith, consumer and other organizations and their millions of members – demand an agreement on a comprehensive WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver be finalized at the WTO’s Ministerial Conference. The majority of WTO member countries agree that a waiver is critical to scale up production of the COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests necessary to end the pandemic. Forty organizations gathered more than three million petition signatures in support of the waiver.

On May 5, people across the globe celebrated the Biden administration joining 100-plus WTO member countries in support of the WTO waiver, which would suspend WTO intellectual property barriers that provide pharmaceutical firms with lengthy monopoly rights to control supplies of medicines — even in a global pandemic when there simply are not enough effective and affordable vaccines, tests and treatments being made. Six months later, the administration has failed to deliver on the waiver.

More than 60 WTO nations formally sponsored the South Africa-India waiver proposal and scores more support some form of waiver. But without President Joe Biden exerting leadership to deliver a waiver text, the European Union, on behalf of Germany, plus Switzerland and the United Kingdom have blocked progress, even as millions die waiting for shots and treatments.

With the WTO Ministerial days away, today’s petition delivery is a painful reminder to the Biden administration that every day the U.S. fails to act, more people die. The mismatch between the administration’s stated priority of ending the pandemic to save lives versus the failure to deliver on a waiver is disastrous and unacceptable.

“The refusal to approve the TRIPS waiver to scale up vaccines production is inhumane and unjust,” says Joyce Ajlouny, general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker peace and social justice organization that signed onto the petition. “President Biden, it is time to walk the talk and facilitate the approval of the TRIPS waiver to save lives. In addition, the US needs to show real solidarity to low and middle-income countries that have only had enough vaccine to reach 4% of their populations. It is time for leadership to end this pandemic.

The petition delivery is part of dozens of actions taking part across the globe leading up to and during the WTO Ministerial. The three million petition signatures add to a deluge of support for the waiver, including from the majority of U.S. House Democrats, ten U.S. senators, 170-plus former heads of state and Nobel laureates, 400-plus U.S. civil society organizations, 250 international organizations and over 100 international intellectual policy academics.  

Organizations participating in the petition campaign include ActionAid USA, American Friends Service Committee, Amnesty USA, Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (USA), Avaaz, Be A Hero, Center for Health and Hope, Citizens Trade Campaign, Demand Progress, Doctors For America, Drug Prices Are Too High, Fight for the Future, Greenpeace, Health GAP, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, Justice Is Global, Marked By COVID, National Council of Churches USA, National Organization of Women, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Other98, Oxfam America, Partners In Health, Progress America, Progressive Democrats of America, Right to Health Action, Social Security Works, Treatment Action Group, Union of Concerned Scientists

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The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social systems.