Campaigners say Boris Johnson must join in calls for waiving of intellectual property rights to beat vaccine inequality
Charities have welcomed political support for the fight against global vaccine inequality.
The SNP’s Westminster Leader Ian Blackford has joined the likes of Oxfam in urging Boris Johnson to “do the right thing” and pressure pharmaceutical firms to waive intellectual property rights to vaccine patents to allow developing countries to manufacture them for themselves.
Blackford has sent a letter to the prime minister saying that enabling developing countries to produce the vaccine on home soil is “our moral obligation and vital to defeating Covid”.
His move follows a call from the People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA), which has over 80 members including Oxfam Scotland, Global Justice Now Scotland and Christian Aid Scotland, for drugs firms and rich nations to change course before it is too late.
They say that a lack of willingness by big pharmaceutical companies to openly share their vaccine science and technology and the lack of action from rich countries to ensure access to vaccines globally have created the perfect breeding ground for new variants such as Omicron.
There is a willingness and a capacity in poorer countries to get on with producing the vaccine – for example, Medecins San Frontiers has already identified seven factories in Africa that could produce the Pfizer jab.
However, the discrepancies are stark: as of 30 October, only 3.6% of people in low income countries have had at least one vaccine dose, compared to 71.4% in high income states.
Blackford said: “We will not defeat this virus if developing nations are left to rely on vaccine donations alone - especially considering the UK has only donated 6 million out of a pledged 100m to the Covax initiative [a global, UN backed vaccine sharing scheme].
“All countries must have the tools to allow them to produce Covid vaccines on home soil and ramp up production if we are to have a truly effective global vaccine strategy. That means ensuring they have access to the vaccine patents.
“So I am urging Boris Johnson to do the right thing and stop blocking the vaccine intellectual property waiver - at least temporarily - to allow developing nations to manufacture the vaccines themselves.
“This is a matter of global leadership, and with over 100 states, including the USA supporting the proposal, it is clear the UK is becoming increasingly isolated in blocking the waiver to support access to vaccines around the world. Indeed, it is the least the UK government can do after it brutally slashed aid and hindered humanitarian projects around the world.
“The emergence of the new Omicron variant has shown us that, until we achieve vaccine equality, new variants could continue to appear. Therefore, it is in everybody’s interests that we share vaccine patents - it will be an essential step in beating Covid-19.”
His intervention was welcomed by Jamie Livingstone, head of Oxfam Scotland.
He said:“It's hugely significant that the SNP’s Westminster leader has answered our call by adding his voice to the growing chorus of those who are demanding urgent action to stop pharmaceutical companies from artificially rationing global vaccine supply by holding lifesaving vaccine recipes and technologies hostage.
“Vaccine inequality is both morally wrong and it places people across Scotland at additional risk from the emergence of dangerous new variants, like Omicron, with epidemiologists warning all along that no one is safe until we all are.
“The UK government is looking more and more isolated as it continues to stubbornly stand on the wrong side of history by choosing to put protecting patents and big pharma’s profits above saving people's lives. The prime minister must now act: a failure to do so would be short-sighted, self-defeating and shameful.”