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Nursing Unions Urge WHO To Release Vaccine Patents

Nov. 30, 2021 (EIRNS)—Nursing unions from 28 countries have called on the United Nations to support a temporary waiver on patents for COVID-19 vaccines, and warned of a “crisis of global vaccine apartheid” that could lead to more new variants like Omicron and Delta spreading around the world. In a letter sent on Nov. 29, the unions accused the European Union, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway and Singapore of “protecting the profits of big pharmaceutical companies at the expense of public health,” by opposing the so-called TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver backed by around 100 nations.

As of late September, 73% of the world’s COVID-19 vaccines had been given in just 10 countries, the letter said, and that rich countries had obtained 7 billion doses of the vaccines. That compares to just 300 million doses available to people in low-income nations.

The unions, which represent around 2.5 million healthcare workers worldwide, urged the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng, of South Africa, to take action on what it called “the crimes of the governments of some of the world’s richest countries.”

In October 2020, South Africa and India began to press the World Trade Organization (WTO) to approve a waiver of parts of the multinational TRIPS agreement, in order to improve access to vaccines in poorer countries. Supporters of the proposal at the WTO argue that a waiver would temporarily lift the patents on the world’s COVID-19 vaccines, making them easier and cheaper to produce.

A WTO conference due to discuss the TRIPS waiver was postponed on Nov. 26 due to the Omicron outbreak. Failure to back the measure would mean “the violation of the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health,” the letter coordinated by Organizations Global Nurses United and Progressive International charged.

On average, only 40% of health and care workers worldwide are fully vaccinated against the virus, the letter said. In Africa and the Western Pacific, that rate falls to fewer than 1 in 10. The WHO estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 healthcare workers may have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

In recent days, the spread of the Omicron variant—first detected in South Africa—has prompted some world leaders to express support for the proposal. On Nov. 26, U.S. President Joe Biden said the variant showed why it was important to secure the waiver quickly. “The news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations,” Biden said in a statement. On Nov. 27, Norway’s Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt suggested that the country’s new government would break with the previous administration’s opposition to opening up vaccine patents. “No one is safe until everyone is safe. Six percent of the population in African countries is vaccinated. The proportion of vaccinated must go up for everyone’s sake. For their sake, but also for ours,” she told Norway’s Verdens Gang newspaper.

Signers of the petition include leading nurse/health care unions from Australia (Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation); Brazil (Federação Nacional dos Enfermeiros); Canada (Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions and Fédération interprofessionnelle de la santé du Québec); Costa Rica (Asociación Nacional de Profesionales en Enfermería, ANPE); Curaçao (Curaçaose Bond Van Werknemers in Verplegende en Verzorgende Instgellingen); Dominican Republic (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Enfermería); Greece (Pan-Hellenic Federation of Nursing Staff (PASONOP); Guatemala (Sindicato Nacional de los Trabajadores de Salud de Guatemala); Honduras (Asociación Nacional de Enfermeras/os Auxiliares de Honduras); India (United Nurses Association); Ireland (Irish Nurses and Midwives Organization); Israel (Israeli Nurses Association); Italy (Nursind); Kenya (Kenya National Union of Nurses); Malawi (National Organisation of Nurses and Midwives of Malawi); New Zealand (New Zealand Nurses Organisation); Paraguay (Asociación Paraguaya de Enfermería); Philippines (Filipino Nurses United); Portugal (Sindicato dos Enfermeiros Portugueses); Rwanda (Rwanda Nurses and Midwives Union); South Africa (Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa, DENOSA); South Korea (Korean Health and Medical Workers’ Union); Spain (Sindicato de Enfermería, SATSE); Sri Lanka (Government Nursing Officers’ Association); China (Taiwan Nurses Union); Uganda (Uganda Nurses and Midwives Union); United States (National Nurses United); Uruguay (Sindicato Unico de Enfermería del Uruguay, SUEU).

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