Washington, D.C. – As governments worldwide prepare to meet at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva for its first ministerial summit since the start of the pandemic, more than 750 students across the U.S. are calling on President Joe Biden to support a comprehensive waiver of WTO rules standing in the way of COVID vaccine, test and treatment access.
“While COVID vaccines are readily available throughout the United States, that’s still not the case for billions of people worldwide,” said Noël Hutton, student outreach coordinator for the Trade Justice Education Fund. “The U.S. has a major role to play in removing barriers to vaccine and treatment access. Each day that passes without President Biden’s leadership, there are more avoidable deaths and greater chances of a new COVID variant developing that disrupts everyone’s lives all over again.”
In a letter by 783 students from campuses across the country, students urged President Biden to support an emergency waiver of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) that’s needed to enable increased production of COVID medical technologies in low- and middle-income countries. More than 100 countries participating the WTO ministerial support a TRIPS waiver, but it is opposed by the EU, U.K. and Switzerland, who appear poised to block it once again.
The Biden administration publicly announced its support for a waiver for vaccines more than a year ago, but has been criticized for failing to forcefully advocate for a vaccine waiver and for opposing the expansion of a waiver to also cover tests and treatments.
The letter to the president states, “At a point when the U.S. is itself relying on ‘test and treat’ strategies in an attempt to transition COVID from a deadly pandemic into a manageable endemic phase, we are especially dismayed that your administration has opposed attempts by South Africa, India and dozens of other nations at the World Trade Organization to eliminate intellectual property barriers that impede access to COVID diagnostics and therapeutics. Protections for pharmaceutical monopolies must not be allowed to stand in the way of increase vaccine, test and treatment production around the globe.”
“To save lives and end the pandemic, the vaccine apartheid that characterized the rollout of first-generation COVID vaccines must not be allowed to continue for the rollout of treatments and second-generation vaccines,” said Hutton. “Students of conscience everywhere are urging President Biden to support a comprehensive TRIPS waiver, to compel the sharing of test and treatment technical know-how and to help fund the creation of distributed production hubs around the world.
The letter comes during “Global Days of Action for COVID Vaccine & Treatment Equity” ahead of the WTO ministerial, during which protests in dozens of cities worldwide have also called on the U.S. and European countries to put human lives ahead of pharmaceutical monopoly profits. A full copy of the letter is available here.