The Council of Global Unions, representing over 200 million workers, has released a statement calling for governments to “make Covid-19 vaccines available for all,” lambasting world leaders for their refusal to address intellectual property rights in this specific instance and allow generic vaccines to be produced even before vaccine patents expire.
“It has been nearly two years since the outbreak of the global Covid-19 pandemic,” they wrote on Monday. “Workers have stepped up, putting themselves at risk to safeguard people’s lives, livelihoods, and the global economy, and driven outstanding advances in science and medicine with the rapid development of Covid-19 tests, treatments, drugs, medical devices, personal protective equipment and, most importantly, vaccines.
“Despite the commitment of workers, a handful of governments are sabotaging global recovery by blocking the sharing of these medical advances, costing more lives and putting workers and communities at further risk. Immediate collective action is needed to ensure equal and universal access to Covid-19 vaccines and wider health products and technologies … [and to suspend] intellectual property rules in exceptional circumstances: the pandemic is clearly an exceptional circumstance.”
Meanwhile, nursing unions in 28 countries representing almost three million healthcare workers have filed a formal appeal with the United Nations, protesting the refusal of the UK, EU, and other countries to temporarily waive patents for Covid vaccines, which, they say, has led to a huge loss of life in developing nations.
The call comes from unions representing nurses and healthcare staff in the US, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Curacao, the Dominican Republic, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Malawi, New Zealand, Paraguay, the Philippines, Portugal, Rwanda, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Uganda, and Uruguay.
Calling government policies “vaccine apartheid,” they describe “staggering numbers of deaths and the immense suffering caused by political inaction,” noting that richer nations have acquired around seven billion vaccine doses to date, as compared to the around 300 million poorer nations have. Over 3.5 billion people across the world have yet to receive even a first dose of any COVID vaccine.
Shirley Marshal Díaz Morales, the vice-president of Brazil’s Federação Nacional dos Enfermeiros union, said: “It is way past time for the governments of the world to prioritize the health of the people over the profits of multinational corporations by approving the vaccine waiver.”
According to Dr. Meru Sheel, senior research fellow at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University, 66 percent of people in high-income countries are now fully vaccinated; in low-income countries, the figure is just 2.5 percent.
While logistics regarding transport and distribution are partially responsible for the huge discrepancies, the main issue is supply, he told The Guardian, adding that a broad vaccination program covering the entire world is ultimately to everyone’s benefit.
Explaining that unequal distribution of vaccines is one factor that can lead to swifter development of viral variants, Deborah Burger, co-president of the National Nurses United union in the United States, stressed that if the situation is not rectified, it will “pose a dire risk to all people around the world,” with unchecked spread of the virus enabling it to mutate and evolve far more quickly than it would in a vaccinated population. Although Omicron’s origins are not currently known, it has been theorized that it first developed in a COVID patient also suffering from AIDS or HIV. In people with compromised immune systems, the virus has time to replicate numerous times before either the immune system overcomes the virus or death intervenes.