Vaccine equity now! Educators in the UK and across the world demand urgent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines.

As the Omicron variant spreads around the world causing new infections, heightened fears and massive shutdowns, educators have renewed their renewed their call for equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines to stem the relentless waves of the pandemic. 

32 million teachers and education support personnel represented at the global level by Education International, are joining forces with millions of workers in other sectors to demand that governments ensure universal access to Covid-19 vaccines, health products and technologies.  

The National Education Union strongly supports this call. Today the Joint General Secretaries of the NEU, Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney have written to the Prime Minister (see below) urging the UK Government to support the call to waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines and medical products. 

statement adopted by the Council of Global Unions, the voice of over 200 million workers worldwide, urges u governments and in particular, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, along with the European Commission, to put people before profit and waive intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines and medical products at the World Trade Organisation. 

The temporary waiver of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) on Covid-19 vaccines was first proposed by South Africa and India in October 2020. It has the support of over 100 countries around the world. Only a few wealthy countries oppose the waiver and actively choose to defend the profits of pharmaceutical companies during a deadly pandemic which has caused more than 5 million deaths worldwide and continues to ravage the most vulnerable.  

Vaccine donation schemes aiming to support vaccine access in low- and middle-income countries have consistently failed to reach their targets. A new global report reveals the extent of the failure: Of the 1.8 billion vaccine donations promised by Team Europe (EU, Norway, and Switzerland) and the G7, only 261 million doses – 14% – have been delivered to date. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies are making record-breaking profits at the cost of thousands; if not millions; of human lives.  

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said:

'Waiving patents, transferring technology and spreading vaccination across the world offers the best chance of avoiding further vaccine variants that might once again impact on education in our own country.'  


Editor's note

Full text of letter

Dear Prime Minister, 

Subject: Support TRIPS waiver proposal at the World Trade Organisation 

As the Joint General Secretaries of the National Education Union, we urge you to urgently support the proposed “Waiver from certain provisions of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19" at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and work constructively to reach an agreement on the matter with other WTO members. 

Once again, the emergence of another Covid-19 variant, this time Omicron, demonstrates that the only sustainable solution to stem the relentless waves of the pandemic is equitable access to vaccines worldwide. 

Wealthy governments, including the UK, have been portraying vaccine donations as a better solution than the TRIPS waiver. However, this is simply too little and too late. A new global report reveals the extent of the problem: Of the 1.8 billion vaccine donations promised by Team Europe (EU, Norway, and Switzerland) and the G7, only 261 million doses – 14% – have been delivered to date. 

Non-discriminatory access to Covid-19 vaccines is a human right, as demonstrated in a recent legal opinion, which states that a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) cannot oppose the waiver if they are to comply with their human rights obligations. We are also concerned about pharmaceutical companies being granted monopolistic power over Covid-19 vaccines, treatment, and technology. This hampers the equitable distribution of medical products and drains already meagre public budgets and investments needed for post-pandemic recovery, including in education and research. 

As representatives of educators in the UK, and members of the global education union movement through Education International, we are concerned about the impact of your position on the TRIPS Waiver on education worldwide. Previous lockdowns during the pandemic have clearly demonstrated the longer-term negative impact of school closures on children and youth, including the disproportionate effects on already disadvantaged groups of students. Efforts to keep education institutions open also depend on ensuring equitable access to vaccines across the globe. 

While we support all multilateral efforts to improve access to the Covid-19 vaccines globally, including the COVAX scheme, we believe that it is essential to address existing intellectual property barriers that limit the production and supply of medical products. Pharmaceutical companies could have acted all along and have continuously failed to do so. Also, existing TRIPS flexibilities have proven to be unworkable in the context of the pandemic where vaccines and other technologies are protected by multiple forms of intellectual property and where production relies on complex global supply chains. 

It is paramount that governments come together to find constructive and effective solutions to overcome intellectual property rights barriers to end this pandemic. Therefore, we urge you to support the proposed TRIPS waiver to ensure equitable access to Covid-19 medical products globally.  

As the pandemic has shown us, in our interdependent world, no one is safe until everyone is safe. The fight against Covid-19 and its variants can only be won together. 

Yours sincerely,  

Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney 

Joint general secretaries