UN Human Rights Experts tell governments, WTO, IMF and Big Pharma to ensure universal access to COVID-19 vaccines

November 11, 2020: UN Human Rights Experts on November 9 called on the 31st Special Session of the General Assembly in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic to base their response on the bedrock human-rights based principles of international solidarity, cooperation and assistance.

The Experts welcomed the petition by South Africa and India of October 2, 2020, to waive certain provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19.

They urged States to use to the full the provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to grant compulsory licences as recognized in the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health and follow the commitment made in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG3).

The Experts called on States to join the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility and to put aside misplaced individual initiatives to monopolize vaccine or supplies, and to recognise that voluntary pledges like COVID-19 technology access pool are not enough in view of the current situation.

They urged Big Pharma to respect the significant public funding for COVID-19 vaccine research and development, and to refrain from invoking their intellectual property rights and prioritizing economic gains.

They urged the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, consistent with their human rights duties under international law, to ensure that aid that they provide to developing countries contributes to expanding their capacity to procure, manufacture and distribute safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccines. The WB and IMF programs should be part of the COVAX Global Vaccines Facility.

They noted that the World Bank has already provided US$12 billion in grants and concessional loan facilities to developing countries for COVID-19 programs, but the danger was that these funds would only increase public indebtedness and boost corporate profits unless there was a genuine global cooperative plan.

“There is no room for nationalism or profitability in decision-making about access to vaccines, essential tests and treatments, and all other medical goods, services and supplies that are at the heart of the right to the highest attainable standard of health for all,” they said.

“Unfortunately, it appears that some Governments have undertaken to secure vaccines for their citizens only. Isolationist health policies and procurement are in contradiction with international human rights standards”. Rich countries with 13 per cent of the world’s people have secured 51 per cent of possible vaccine production.

They warned that developing country governments, faced with increasing debt, rather than adopting human rights compliant policies will resort once again to austerity, with cuts in social protection, food assistance or health supplies. This would further deepen poverty, discrimination and the inequality gap within countries. This will also delay the economic recovery process.

Austerity measures implemented in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis left public health care and social protection systems severely underfunded, increased precarious employment, and widened inequality between the rich and the poor.