“Free the Vaccine” Die-In to End the Pandemic Everywhere: Speech

Remarks by Heather Day, Director of CAGJ, at TRIPS Waiver Die-In at the Seattle Federal Building

On October 15, 2021, as part of a state-wide week of action, CAGJ joined WA Fair Trade Coalition, Coalition of Seattle Indian Americans, and Socialist Alternative for a Die-In at the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in Seattle. We called on the Biden administration to free the vaccine intellectual property through a TRIPS waiver at the WTO. It has been a year since the initial proposal was filed at the WTO by India and South Africa and no progress has been made. The Biden administration must do all it can to push the waiver over the finish line and end the pandemic everywhere. Watch the livestream recording.

#TRIPSWaiver #FreeTheVaccine #EndVaccineApartheid #SeattleForPeoplesVaccine

Community Alliance for Global Justice is a Seattle-based grassroots organization that grew out of the 1999 protests against the WTO. For over twenty years, we have been working to oppose the free trade ideology of the World Trade Organization and in doing so, we’ve built a movement in Seattle and beyond to demand trade justice and promote food sovereignty. 

Through our program AGRA Watch, which monitors and mobilizes against the Gates Foundation-funded Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (or AGRA), we have stood in solidarity with our African partners to challenge the World Trade Organization’s governance of agriculture and intellectual property. 

We prepared many of the remarks I am sharing with you today for the Seattle City Council press conference after the passage of the resolution brought by Councilmember Sawant in April – we were the first locality to pass such a resolution, way to go Seattle!

Today, many of the same forces that have promoted industrial agriculture and demanded intellectual property rights for agricultural biotechnologies are doing the same for pharmaceutical corporations in the midst of a global pandemic. Our demand of people over profit, which we have long focused on in the context of agriculture, is true for our basic health as well. 

Therefore CAGJ has joined this coalition to demand the immediate passage of an emergency TRIPS waiver. We are joining hundreds of other organizations that are calling on the Biden administration to end the blockage of the Waiver over intellectual property rights in the World Trade Organization.

Without access to vaccines and the knowledge to produce them, we have lost 4.9 million people globally in less than two years. To put that into perspective, that is equivalent to the entire population of Alabama; to the entire population of  Ireland. 

Though increasing numbers of people in rich countries may be protected from the virus, the same cannot be said for our relatives in poorer countries across the world. Without an effective global response to vaccinate the world, these nearly unfathomable numbers are only going to get much worse.  

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. Of course, waiving intellectual property protections is not a silver bullet—but it is a necessary step to address the pandemic. 

While today we join together to call on the Biden Administration to do more to push for a waiver of the intellectual property rights for vaccines, we must also recognize that governments are not the only ones 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, which sought to share technology and intellectual property, called the Covid-19 Technology Access Pool or C-TAP.

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.

Nonetheless, it is not too late. It has been a full year since the original proposal was brought by India and South Africa.

Today, we call on the Biden administration to use more of our leverage to demand an immediate TRIPS waiver over intellectual property rights for vaccines.

And we call on the Gates Foundation to use its financial resources to end vaccine apartheid and support a people’s vaccine for everyone. 

Thank you.

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