March 11 marks the two-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic. The Department of Global Health will be participating in the Global Day of Action to advocate for the removal of pharmaceutical monopolies on COVID tests, vaccines, and treatments to allow low- and middle-income countries to produce the life-saving medicines their populations desperately need. 

The Department of Global Health’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee invites you to participate in a mass die-in on March 11 at 1pm PST at the Red Square on the University of Washington Seattle campus. This event is jointly sponsored by the Washington Fair Trade Coalition and the Trade Justice Education Fund. 

Vaccine apartheid is the gap in vaccine distribution between wealthy countries and low- and middle-income countries across Latin America, Africa, and Asia. A vaccine patent waiver will help expand production and boost immunization coverage across the Global South.

In October 2020, long before the emergence of the highly-contagious Delta and Omicron coronavirus variants, South Africa and India submitted a request to the WTO to waive the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) protections on COVID-related technologies. The proposal, backed by more than 100 other countries, would allow low- and middle-income countries to produce inexpensive generic vaccines essential to boosting global production. Though the U.S. publicly endorsed a TRIPS waiver, Germany and other European Union nations blocked passage at the TRIPS Council meeting in October 2021.  

The Omicron coronavirus variant highlighted the critical need for the waiver. Ironically, the Omicron variant also led to the postponement of the World Trade Organization (WTO) December 2021 conference, where the patent waiver was to be taken up. This postponement has not stopped activists and civil organizations from calling for the waiver be approved.  As we did in the struggle for affordable AIDS drugs 20 years ago, it is more urgent than ever that Seattle’s prominent public health community join efforts to pressure the WTO to approve the waiver without further delay.  

Currently there are more than 50 countries that have missed even the substandard target of 40% COVID-19 vaccination rates, with less than 9% of the population fully vaccinated across Africa. Vaccine apartheid has contributed to the death of nearly 5.2 million people and enabled emergence of five variants of concern in the very countries that requested the TRIPS waiver. While there are other factors and barriers to vaccine roll-out around the world that also must be addressed, the WTO waiver is essential to boost production and bring down the cost of these life-saving medicines.

Join us and activists around the globe on March 11 at Red Square to demand vaccine justice!

James Pfeiffer, DGH director, diversity, equity and inclusion and professor of global health



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