On Thursday June 3rd, protestors demanded the suspension of patent protection on COVID-19 vaccines, urging the G7 health ministers assembled in Oxford to “put people over profit”. Directly afterwards, the Extinction Rebellion (XR) protested to warn of the detrimental impacts of the climate and ecological emergency on global health.
The sixty protestors outside the Clarendon building demanded “free the [COVID-19 vaccine] patents” on those vaccines already being on a large scale by the G7 countries. They highlighted the global inequalities in vaccine access, demanding that the richer G7 countries waive intellectual property (IP) rights on their own vaccinations, to prevent the deaths of hundreds of people around the globe. Over 100 non-G7 countries already demand a time-limited waiver of IP rights on the vaccine, and even US president Biden has announced his support of the waiver.
The protest was largely run by the People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA), a large campaign group including Global Justice Now and UN/AIDS. Campaign advisor and long-time health advocate Mohga Kamal-Yanni said: “The UK has enough for themselves, but is not allowing others to produce. This self-interst is stupid. It allows the virus to mutate into variants (CHECK) that spread faster and are more dangerous, such as the Indian variant. It might also lead to mutations against which existing vaccines are less effective, such as the South African variant.”
PhD student Anna, who is conducting research on the process of COVID-19 infection said: “We need to prevent a repeat of the AIDS epidemic, where thousands of lives were lost despite prophylactics and medication being available”. She also pointed out that the past offers positive examples, such as the near eradication of Smallpox due to mass-vaccination.
Chair of the local labour party Jabu Nala-hartley said: “It’s so painful to see so many people dying in India, where they are producing, but then exporting the vaccine”. She asked: “How many people need to die before the world wakes up?”
The following XR protest was joined by Doctors for Extinction Rebellion, who had written a letter to the members of the G7. It called on the G7 to include the disastrous impacts of the climate and ecological emergency (CEE) on global health on the agenda. These effects include malaria, malnutrition or heat-related death. People lay down on the ground and were covered in white sheets as part of the protest.
Retired doctor Diana Warner also said: “The CEE will be the cause of future pandemics”. She announced that she would sit in front of the Clarendon building until she heard that the letter had been received.
Spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada Franklin said: “Canada remains committed to finding solutions and reaching an agreement that accelerates global vaccine production and does not negatively impact public health.
“Coordination among multilateral institutions and other international partners is also important for addressing the unprecedented global challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the onset of COVID-19, Canada has actively worked with a range of international partners to identify barriers to accessing vaccines and other medical products. This includes Canada’s active engagement in the work of the Trade and Health Initiative at the WTO, as well as Canada’s support of the WTO Director General’s engagement with the pharmaceutical sector towards accelerating the production and distribution of affordable, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and other medical products in coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other relevant organizations.
“We know the pandemic isn’t over anywhere until it is over everywhere. Canada supports ongoing international cooperation including through Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator and the COVAX Facility.”
The other G7 members have been contacted for comment.
Image credit: Hugh Warwick