World Leaders Call on Future German Chancellor to Support TRIPS Waiver
German Health Minister Jens Spahn and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have staunchly opposed the TRIPS waiver.

More than 140 former heads of state and Nobel laureates have called on the three candidates in line to be the next German chancellor to declare themselves in favour of waiving intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines and transferring vaccine technologies.

Germany is leading the European Commission’s refusal to accept the so-called TRIPS waiver proposal put forward by South Africa and India at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

However, German elections on 26 September could unseat Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union Party, which has steadfastly opposed the TRIPS waiver – apparently in support of BioNTech-Pfizer.

In the letter, addressed to Annalena Baerbock, Olaf Scholz, and Armin Laschet, sent on Wednesday, the signatories stress that German support for waiving patents is vital to overcoming vaccine monopolies, transferring vaccine technology and scaling up vaccine manufacturing around the world to prevent millions more deaths from COVID-19.

Signatories include former French President François Hollande, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, former Malawian President Joyce Banda and Helen Clark, New Zealand’s former prime minister. 

Nobel prize winners include Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Professor Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Elfriede Jelinek.

End the pandemic

They express deep concern with Germany’s “continued opposition to a temporary waiver of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) intellectual property rules”, at a time in which “the artificial restriction on manufacturing and supply is leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths from COVID-19 each day”. Less than 2% of adults are fully vaccinated in low-income countries compared to almost 50 % in high-income countries.

The TRIPS waiver on COVID-19 vaccines, proposed by India and South Africa in October 2020, is supported by over 100 countries including the United States and France in doing so. 

“Having helped create the most successful vaccine technology against COVID-19, by overcoming pharmaceutical monopolies and insisting that the technology be shared, Germany has the ability to help end this pandemic,” according to the letter.

It also calls on the next Chancellor to ensure that German pharmaceutical companies openly and rapidly share life-saving mRNA vaccine technology with qualified producers around the world.

Commenting on the letter, New Zealand’s Clark stressed: “Germany’s support for a TRIPS waiver in the exceptional circumstances presented by COVID-19 would send a clear signal that all peoples should be able to benefit speedily from available vaccines and therapeutics. Widespread vaccination now and further scaling up of vaccine production will play a significant role in curbing the pandemic.”

Extraordinary power

Meanwhile, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, said that the new Chancellor of Germany will “hold extraordinary power to turn the tide on this horrific pandemic”. 

“Intellectual property rules are today locking out people across the world from the benefits of life-saving science – it is time for Germany to ensure the transfer of vaccine technologies and join the rest of the world in backing a temporary waiver at the WTO,” he added.

Earlier in the week, ​​Belgian Green Sarah Matthieu, a Member of the European Parliament, said that the European Commission’s opposition to the waiver is “economic”, based on lobbying and financial support from the pharmaceutical companies. BioNTech is a particularly big donor of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union Party, she added.

“We continue to see the Commission really putting big pharma over people’s health. It continues to push its own proposal, that is, if I can say it bluntly, big air. It’s not going to change anything,” Matthieu told a media briefing on Monday organised by Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF), Health Action International, Public Citizen and Third World Network.

Although the European Parliament has passed a resolution in support of starting text-based negotiations on the waiver, this is continually downplayed by commissioners, she added.

The letter was coordinated by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of more than 70 organizations including Club de Madrid, Global Justice Now and UNAIDS.


Image Credits: Clemens Bilan.

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