Education International, the global federation of education unions, urges Members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to support the “Waiver from certain provisions of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19".
Initiated by South Africa and India and currently supported by over 100 countries, the waiver proposal would facilitate more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, technology, and diagnostics. Recent discussions at the WTO General Council meeting, 1-2 March 2021, indicate that consensus is still far from being reached and a number of countries, mostly from the Global North, remain opposed to the waiver.
Education International is particularly concerned about rich countries taking nationalist approaches to securing vaccines as well as granting monopoly power to pharmaceutical companies. At the current pace, forecasts indicate that many countries in the Global North will have achieved widespread vaccination coverage by 2021 while the poorest countries might only reach this milestone in 2024. The World Health Organisation's Director General recently stressed that so far, more than three quarters of vaccinations were carried out in just 10 countries. Many of these countries have purchased excess vaccine doses that go far beyond their population, in some cases by multiple times.
Pharmaceutical companies being granted monopolistic power over COVID-19 vaccines, treatment, and technology hampers the equitable distribution of medical products and drains already meagre public budgets and investments needed for post-pandemic recovery, including in education and research.
We are only beginning to grasp the longer-term negative impact of school closures on children and youth, including the disproportionate effects on already disadvantaged groups of students. Given the important role of onsite education and the key role that teachers and education support personnel play in this regard, Education International welcomes that an increasing number of countries with access to vaccines have decided to give educators priority in national vaccination plans. However, efforts to re-open schools and education institutions depend on the equitable access to vaccines across the globe.
The fight against COVID-19 and its variants can only be won together. While Education International supports all multilateral efforts to improve access to the COVID-19 vaccines globally, including the COVAX scheme, we believe that it is essential to address existing intellectual property barriers that limit the global capacity of manufacturing and supply of medical products. Therefore, Education International and its 386 member organisations in 178 countries urge all WTO member states to support the TRIPS waiver and join forces to end the COVID-19 pandemic.
Together we can pave the way for equitable access to COVID-19 medical products for all.