An open letter to prime minister Jacinda Ardern, minister of foreign affairs Nanaia Mahuta and trade minister Damien O’Connor on supporting a People’s Vaccine
Dear Prime Minister Ardern and Ministers Mahuta and O’Connor,
The world has watched Aotearoa New Zealand’s remarkable response to Covid-19. Our leaders struck a different path from many other countries, one informed by experts, and our team of five million pulled together to keep all New Zealanders safe. As the world continues watching, we can demonstrate our kindness and solidarity by supporting a People’s Vaccine, so we can all get through this pandemic together.
We, the undersigned 42 organisations, request that Aotearoa New Zealand support a People’s Vaccine and back India and South Africa’s proposal for a temporary relaxation of intellectual property rules from certain provisions of the WTO Agreement on Trade Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the prevention, containment and treatment of Covid-19.
The proposed waiver would last until widespread vaccination has occurred and the majority of the world is immune, and would be reviewed annually. If implemented, it will result in significantly expanded production of Covid-19 vaccines, lowering prices and widening availability, particularly for low-income developing countries. The market monopolies conferred under the WTO patent protection regime and the restrictive pricing structures set by the pharmaceutical industry are among the largest barriers for low income developing countries to access essential medicines.
As it currently stands, experts are projecting that it will take until 2024 for low-income developing countries to be able to fully vaccinate their populations against Covid-19. On 18 January World Health Organisation Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that while 39 million doses had been administered in rich countries, a mere 25 doses had been administered in low income countries. Existing flexibilities under the TRIPS agreement are inadequate, relying on a cumbersome compulsory licensing mechanism and leaving the door open to delays via dispute resolution. Companies exercising their rights to contest how the flexibilities are used endangers lives and livelihoods, slowing the global economic recovery and impacting both the developed and developing world.
Without further action we will fall far short of the prime minister’s call for “equal global access to a Covid-19 vaccine”. In July 2020, you, prime minister, co-authored an op-ed in The Washington Post, with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and several other world leaders, saying “where you live should not determine whether you live”. Supporting South Africa and India’s proposal at the WTO is about honouring that commitment. To date, however, Aotearoa New Zealand has not taken a firm public position when this matter has been discussed at the WTO and said it needs more information. We consider this is not a matter on which Aotearoa New Zealand can, with integrity, sit on the fence.
We have seen throughout 2020 how the pandemic has acted as a handbrake on human development and economic growth, sending economies into the severest depression in more than half a century, and leading to a sharp global increase in unemployment, not to mention the pandemic’s severe health impacts that have already claimed more than two million lives globally. Backing the relaxation of rules in the face of this emergency is also consistent with a rules-based international order: the waiver is being pursued through the WTO, via the right process, for a temporary period and with annual monitoring.
If 2021 is going to become the “year of the vaccine” then the international community must take serious action. The team of five million needs to join the team of seven billion. As the outgoing Chair of the WTO General Council, Aotearoa New Zealand’s leadership to support this temporary relaxation of patent rules relating to Covid could prove crucial to safeguarding global public health.
Without this action 2021 may instead become referred to as the first year of vaccine apartheid, where poor countries have to wait their turn as their people die and economies collapse, and rich countries use their wealth to jump the queue. We call on you to uphold Aotearoa New Zealand’s reputation as a good global citizen by championing a People’s Vaccine.
Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand
Aotearoa Legal Workers Union (ALWU)
Aotearoa Tech Union (ATU)
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (ASMS)
Auckland Action Against Poverty (AAAP)
Auckland Feminist Action
Auckland Peace Action
Auckland Philippine Solidarity (APS)
Auckland Unitarian Church
Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa (CAFCA)
Christian World Service
Dairy Workers Union (DWU)
Economic and Social Research Aotearoa (ESRA)
E Tū Union
Health Sector Workers Network of Aotearoa New Zealand
Hospo Workers Union
Indian Workers’ Association
It’s Our Future
Professor Jane Kelsey, University of Auckland
Cardinal John Dew, Archbishop of Wellington
Médecins Sans Frontières New Zealand
National Council of Women New Zealand (NCWNZ)
New Zealand Alternative
NZ Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi (NZCTU)
New Zealand Education Initiative (NZEI)
NZ Public Service Association (PSA)
People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA)
Dr Siouxsie Wiles
Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG)
Uyghur Solidarity Aotearoa NZ