In recent weeks, CAGJ/AGRA Watch has been mobilizing our membership in support of global vaccine access. Founded out of the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization (WTO) protests, CAGJ has long fought in the struggle for trade justice. Trade issues are hitting center stage once again as the world seeks to end this global pandemic. Today we are facing the same free market ideologies we challenged in ’99 as we fight for vaccine equity over private pharmaceutical profits.
End Vaccine Apartheid: TRIPS Infographic
We developed a short infographic to build common understanding about trade barriers which are hindering increased access to COVID vaccines and treatments. Specifically, we bring attention to the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (commonly known as TRIPS) agreement at the WTO.
CAGJ called on our base to contact their Members of Congress, urging Representatives to add their name to a Congressional sign-on letter. The House letter to the Biden Administration went public this morning, calling for a partial emergency waiver to the TRIPS rules. This is one way trade justice activists are hoping to pressure the White House to reverse this Trump-era stance at the WTO.
The TRIPS waiver is a necessary step needed to increase timely global access to COVID vaccines and treatments. To learn about the importance of the TRIPS waiver, please view the infographic which is available on our Instagram, Facebook, or as a direct file on Canva.
Seattle City Council Testimony + Resolution
On Monday, April 26, CAGJ members Marina Skumanich and Martha Baskin testified to Seattle City Council in support of a resolution brought forward by Councilmember Sawant. The resolution urged Biden to lift COVID-19 patent restrictions and passed 7-1!
“The demand to share the technology is one favored by a majority of countries at the WTO, but blocked by a handful of richer countries. It has support from Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International and Oxfam who, like others has been calling for a people’s vaccine that is accessible to everyone, everywhere, as soon as possible.” – Martha Baskin
“Rarely is it the case in policy that the most altruistic impulse is directly in synch with the most crass self-interested calculation. But that is the case here! For no-one is safe from Covid-19 unless all of us are made safe.” – Marina Skumanich
Seattle was the first locality to pass such a resolution.
Congressional Sign-on Letter
On Monday, April 26, CAGJ organizer Noël Hutton joined a delegation testifying to her Representative in New Mexico, with support from organizers at Public Citizen, Oxfam, and Health GAP. We thank Rep. Leger Fernandez (NM-03) for signing on to the House letter, joining 109 others for a majority of the House Democratic Caucus. Many pharma-backed Representatives failed to sign on. Noël shared, in part:
“Something else that brings home the TRIPS waiver for me is a family for whom I’ve been a caretaker. It is the story of a man who was one of your constituents. Leonardo had compromised lungs — asbestos from construction work throughout his life. He died from COVID-19 just after Christmas. His story highlights the pre-existing inequities that already leave workers more vulnerable to severe complications and death from COVID-19 and who are continuing to be forced to work public-facing jobs.
While addressing structural determinants of health is a longer game of needed change, increasing access to vaccines is one important step we can take today. Because as you know, COVID deaths are not merely numbers. They are real lives who leave behind others who love and care for them — whether they live here in New Mexico or across the Global South.”
Rally at the Gates Foundation
After this victory, CAGJ joined forces with the Coalition of Seattle Indian-Americans, Socialist Alternative, and Washington Fair Trade Coalition to organize a rally at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. CAGJ/AGRA Watch member Matt Canfield spoke at a press conference preceding the event.
“Waiving intellectual property rights is the moral issue of our moment. While some corporations have agreed to waive their IP, the truth is that this is not enough. The technologies used to develop vaccines are covered by a thicket of different patents that have stopped companies around the world from using these technologies to develop lifesaving treatments as well as prevented the necessary transfer of technology to ramp up vaccine production where it is now needed most […]
Yet while today we join together to call on the Biden Administration to provide a waiver for the intellectual property rights for vaccines, we must also recognize that the US government is not the only one standing in the way of this. Another Seattle-based figure is playing a critical role in shaping the global response to COVID-19 – Bill Gates.
Through his Foundation, Bill Gates has played a powerful role in the global vaccine response. Two of the main organizations that comprise COVAX, which is the vaccine facility of the World Health Organization, were established by and continue to receive support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. From its very start, COVAX has sought to protect the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical corporations.
Gates claims that intellectual property rights are necessary to spur innovation in the pharmaceutical sector. However, most of the funding for these vaccines have come from the public. Even so, Gates has promoted COVAX as the primary global vaccine response to the pandemic. In doing so, he sidelined another WHO initiative promoted by Costa Rica, the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool or C-TAP, which sought to share technology and intellectual property.
Gates’ COVAX response has focused on pooling funds to purchase vaccines rather than pooling knowledge. By doing so, COVAX claimed it would avoid vaccine nationalism and vaccinate 20% of the global population by the end of 2021. Clearly, like many of the Gates Foundation’s initiatives in education, agriculture, and now pandemic response, it has failed.”
Around 70 people attended the rally demanding President Biden immediately end vaccine apartheid and nationalism, make the COVID-19 vaccine accessible to billions, and call out Bill Gates for his role in impeding global access to vaccines.
New York Times: Pressure Mounts to Lift Protections on Coronavirus Vaccines
The New Republic: How Bill Gates Impeded Global Access to Covid Vaccines