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No one is safe until we are all safe

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Katherine Tai speaks after Joe Biden announced her nomination to be US Trade Representative (Photograph by Mike Segar/Reuters)

The slogan above is of a campaign addressing the pandemic, based on the realities underlying the circumstances. The six-month campaign, championed by India and South Africa has been pushing for the World Trade Organisation to allow for a temporary waiver on intellectual property rights for Covid vaccines.

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz

That waiver would open the pathway for global immunisation and speed delivery of vaccines across the planet, saving precious lives in both the long and short term.

It is most appropriate that this campaign is being led by the homelands of Ghandi and Mandela. It is noteworthy that this India-South Africa initiative has been strenuously opposed by Big Pharma. However, it has gained growing support over these past six months, including:

• 98 other countries

Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

• Numerous former heads of state and government

• 200 Nobel laureates

• 110 US Congress members

• 10 US senators

• 400 US civil society groups

• 400 European parliamentarians

On May 5, as Bermuda observed the 40th anniversary of the 1981 General Strike, the US Trade Representative at the WTO announced that the Biden Administration would support this campaign — at last!

This great news was delivered by Katherine Tai, the first woman of colour to hold the post, who is quoted as saying:

“Extraordinary circumstances require extraordinary measures”.

The reality of the “extraordinary circumstances” was picked up immediately by Columbia University’s Joseph Stiglitz, one of the campaign’s US champions.

The Nobel laureate made the case in a recent opinion piece last week. I paraphrase:

• The existing roll-out is leading to “vaccine apartheid”, with richer countries having already immunised more than half their populations while only 2 per cent of India’s population and only 1 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa are immunised — largely owing to the inequitable system of vaccine distribution

• The scientific reality is that the quicker that vaccines are available to all, the less chance of mutant strains, which are resistant to vaccines, becoming established

• Full global immunity would need up to 15 billion doses of vaccine. At present, there have been only 1.3 billion doses produced. At this rate it, will take until 2023 to reach everyone on the planet, which would not effectively address the possibility of variants adversely impacting everyone

• The reality is that Big Pharma is attempting to maintain a monopolistic hold on the vaccine patents. All of these vaccines are the product of a collaboration over years in numerous countries, funded by several governments. Unprecedented financial guarantees from taxpayers have facilitated vaccine production

• The pre-eminent, globally respected economist Professor Stiglitz points out that this waiver is not only necessary on moral grounds, but it make sense for “Big Picture Economics”. In the joined-up global ecosystem, we are all in the same boat.

Let’s close with the Nobel laureate’s own words:

“The Covid-19 vaccines have been developed by scientists from all over the world, thanks to the basic scientific support by numerous governments. It is only proper that the people of the world should reap the benefits. This is a matter of morality and self-interest. We must not let the drug companies put profit ahead of lives.”

Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda

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Published May 18, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated May 17, 2021 at 6:28 pm)

No one is safe until we are all safe

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