On April 25, 2019 the Washington Fair Trade Coalition sent the following letter to the Seattle City Council in support of the Resolution from my office demanding President Biden end the U.S. policy of opposing the international campaign to get the Word Trade Organization to waive the intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, so that they can be produced around the world to end the pandemic.
Please vote in favor of Councilwoman Sawant’s resolution supporting the “TRIPS waiver” that would remove a key obstacle to scaling up production of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
The background on this issue is well reported, and critical. Global production of COVID vaccines is nowhere near enough to meet global demand. While many King County residents have already been vaccinated or hope to be vaccinated in the coming weeks and months, large numbers of people in low- and middle-income countries won’t be vaccinated this year or next because there is not enough vaccine production to come close to what is needed to truly end this pandemic. With the growing expectation that those already immunized against COVID-19 may require regular boosters, supply shortages will not go away unless production rates are increased dramatically. With the rapid rise of variants, which may not be covered by existing vaccine technologies, we cannot afford even the slightest delay in vaccine scale up.
There are existing vaccine production facilities in Africa, Asia and Latin America with the technical capacity to begin making COVID vaccines; but they do not have the permission of patent-holders to do so. Towards this end, over 100 nations are calling for a temporary, emergency waiver of parts of the World Trade Organization’s “Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property” (TRIPS) so that COVID vaccines, test kits and medications can be produced in as many places as possible as quickly as possible.
In addition to being backed by a majority of the world’s governments and the World Health Organization’s Director-General, the TRIPS waiver is supported by a wide array of domestic organizations on the frontlines of the COVID battle, including Doctors Without Borders, Partners In Health, the American Medical Student Association, Doctors for America, National Nurses United, Health GAP, Public Citizen, Amnesty International, Oxfam and hundreds of other health groups, labor unions and faith organizations.
Locally, groups in support of the TRIPS waiver include Health Alliance International, Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington Federation of State Employees, AFT Washington, the MLK Labor Council, the Church Council of Greater Seattle, and the Filipino Community of Seattle among many others.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi likewise backs the waiver, and public opinion polling shows that a wide majority of Americans across political parties supports waiving COVID vaccine patents so that vaccines can be produced more quickly by developing nations.
Unfortunately, when the TRIPS waiver was first proposed late last year, the Trump administration led a small handful of other countries in opposing it. News reports indicate that the Biden administration is now considering reversing that position. A Seattle City Council resolution in support of the TRIPS waiver would demonstrate to the President that Seattle has his back in joining the community of nations on this issue. The primary benefit of the TRIPS waiver is its potential to help save literally millions of lives around the world and end a humanitarian crisis by removing barriers to ability for lower-income countries to manufacture and distribute covid vaccines within their own countries and regions. But there are direct benefits to our city as well. A study by the International Chamber of Commerce found that failure to vaccinate developing countries against COVID-19 could end up costing the global economy $9.2 trillion, with the majority of that cost carried by rich nations like the United States. Every day we allow the global pandemic to continue, the more our own economy suffers.
More so, public health experts are increasingly warning that the longer population centers anywhere go unvaccinated, the greater the risk of a viral mutation that can evade current vaccines and start the pandemic all over for everyone. Just imagine having to restart quarantines all over again in a year or two, just because our nation refused to allow life-saving vaccines to be produced as quickly as possible.
Despite this being an international issue, it’s important for cities to weigh in because we are all impacted. Supporting the TRIPS waiver is the just thing to do in order to save millions of lives, to secure our own economic recovery, to improve international relations and to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope you will enthusiastically endorse the resolution in support of the waiver and work to secure its quick passage.
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at Hillary@washingtonfairtrade.org.
Washington Fair Trade Coalition