Sawant Resolution Urging Biden to Lift COVID-19 Patent Restrictions Passes

Home » Sawant Resolution Urging Biden to Lift COVID-19 Patent Restrictions Passes

“This resolution demonstrates our movement’s rejection of the status quo of profit-driven vaccine apartheid and vaccine nationalism, and our fight for vaccine internationalism, for a People’s Vaccine!”

Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3, Central Seattle), chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Renters Rights Committee, celebrated City Council’s approval today, by a 7 to 1 vote, of her resolution calling on President Biden to end the U.S. opposition to the international campaign for an Intellectual Property Rights waiver from the WTO for COVID-19 vaccines.

Celebrating the resolution’s passage, Councilmember Sawant said, “I congratulate our movement on winning today’s City Council resolution, urging the Biden administration to put human lives before billionaire profit, and remove the WTO patent restrictions to allow all billions of people to have access to the life-saving vaccine. This resolution demonstrates our movement’s rejection of the status quo of profit-driven vaccine apartheid and vaccine nationalism, and our fight for vaccine internationalism, for a People’s Vaccine!”

“Today’s resolution adds the Seattle City Council as a signatory of a powerful, international community letter to President Biden that has been signed by over 400 unions, community organizations, and faith groups from Doctors without Borders internationally, to the National Nurses United, to the local Martin Luther King County Labor Council,” Sawant continued. 

“The rapid and widespread global dissemination of vaccinations is at the center of every strategy by public health professionals to stop the spread of the virus. Yet, the global situation is dire, with stunningly inequitable vaccination access. On average, 1 in 4 people in high-income countries have received a coronavirus vaccine, compared with just 1 in more than 500 in low-income countries.

“Profit-driven billionaires and big pharmaceutical companies, with the blessing of the Biden Administration, are blocking many countries like Brazil, India, and South Africa from producing generic versions of the COVID-19 vaccine. If we don’t fight to change this, starting with the necessary first step of removing the WTO patent restrictions, public health experts say it will literally be years before people in the global South get the vaccine,” warned Sawant, and added that “billionaires are lying when they claim that these profits are necessary to develop future vaccines and treatments, because clinical innovations have been possible only thanks to overwhelming amounts of public funding, and the hard work of many publicly-funded salaried researchers, not by billionaires.”

“Washington Fair Trade Coalition commends Seattle City Council for supporting the TRIPS Waiver,” added Hillary Haden, Executive Director of the Coalition. “Despite this being an international issue, it’s so important for cities to weigh in because the longer the pandemic lasts, the more 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.” 

Sawant noted that as World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has pointed out regarding vaccine doses, “over 87% have gone to high-income or upper- and middle-income countries, while low-income countries have received just 0.2%.” 

More than 100 countries have appealed to the WTO, which enforces Intellectual Property (IP) so-called rights internationally, to issue a waiver to allow COVID-19 vaccines to be produced around the world, but WTO representatives from richer countries including the U.S., U.K., and E.U. have opposed issuing the waiver. That was initially a policy of the Trump Administration, which steadfastly defended the profits of Big Pharma over the lives of millions of people in the Global South. Shamefully, the Biden Administration has continued that policy. The U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said, “A Covid-19 vaccine must be seen as a global public good, a people’s vaccine.”

On February 26, 2021, a letter to President Biden signed by over 400 community organizations and labor unions urged the administration to lift the U.S. blockage of the “Waiver from Certain Provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19,” stating, “with so many of the world’s nations supporting this emergency waiver already, you can also help restore America’s moral and public health leadership in the world by siding with the majority to prioritize saving lives over protecting pharmaceutical corporation monopolies and profits. This new position would be widely noted, given U.S. officials’ shameful attack on the waiver at a January WTO meeting.” 

Raghav Kaushik, a Seattle tech worker who works alongside the Coalition of Seattle Indian Americans, is one of the community members who worked with Councilmember Sawant to draft today’s resolution. He noted that “State/public money is first used to invent a covid vaccine, then it is monopolized by BigPharma in the name of ‘intellectual property’ using the same state to explicitly stop others from producing the same. All this happens as the pandemic rages worldwide and people are dying in droves. It is hard to find the words to adequately describe this outrage. The resolution is an urgently needed step to bring us some sanity.”

Terry Taylor, Council 19 Local Executive Committee President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA explained that lifting COVID patent restrictions is a worker rights and worker safety issue. She noted that “Flight Attendants fly to all regions of the world. We know that our industry and the economy will not take off until everyone has access to the vaccine. We cannot wait and allow this virus to mutate and spread into a version resistant to the current treatments. We need to act—and we need the WTO to waive TRIPS. As long as anyone is exposed, we are all exposed.”

The TRIPS Waiver is also supported by Doctors Without Borders, Hindus for Human Rights, Partners In Health, the American Medical Student Association, Doctors for America, National Nurses United, Health GAP, Public Citizen, Amnesty International, Oxfam, API Chaya, Indivisible, Community Alliance for Global Justice, Global Exchange, CodePink, Right to Health Action, Washington State Labor Council, the Washington Federation of State Employees, American Federation of Teachers Washington, the MLK Labor Council, the Church Council of Greater Seattle, and the Filipino Community of Seattle among many others.

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