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WHO’s Dr Mike Ryan: ‘We have been brought to our knees by Covid-19, not because the virus is smart, but because we are stupid’

The people of the world have been “brought to our knees” by the Covid-19 virus, not because the virus is smart, but “because we are stupid”, Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said today.

The people of the world have been “brought to our knees” by the Covid-19 virus, not because the virus is smart, but “because we are stupid”, Dr Mike Ryan of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said today.

Speaking at the launch of the People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland, Dr Mike Ryan said that vaccine inequity across the world is “an abomination” and that the pandemic will not end until all vulnerable healthcare workers are vaccinated.

“Half of this world thinks the pandemic is over, and half is about to go over another cliff edge,” Dr Mike Ryan said.

“We’ve developed highly effective vaccinations, and what’s our next move? To distribute them in an inequitable fashion so that we can stop the tragedy of the pandemic in some countries, and we will allow that pandemic to continue in so many others.”

“It’s a tragedy and it’s an abomination that today there are frontline workers going to work in Covid wards in many countries that still have not been vaccinated. That is a disgrace. There are enough vaccines in the world to protect those that need to be protected.”

The People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland is calling on the Irish government to take a stand for fairness, equality, and global health by addressing global Covid-19 vaccine inequity.

The Alliance is made up of Irish NGOs, health practitioners, trade unions and activists and is asking Ireland to use its voice within the EU to support the TRIPS waiver and to endorse the World Health Organisation Covid Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) to facilitate the sharing of know-how by pharmaceutical companies to increase Covid-19 vaccine production.

The TRIPS waiver is a mechanism at the World Trade Organisation that would allow for the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. A measure that could help break Big Pharma monopolies and increase vaccine supplies so there are enough doses available for everyone, everywhere.

“We have been brought to our knees by a health crisis. Not by a conflict, not by a war, not by an economic bubble. We’ve been brought to our knees by a virus. Not because the virus is smart, but because we are stupid. We have not been able to use a ground-breaking tool in the smartest way we could have,” Dr Mike Ryan said.

“One good thing about humans, we learn. Every government has a sovereign duty to protect its own population. Surely, we can take care of our own and others, because it helps us back.”

Dr Mike Ryan called on the Irish government to use its leadership role within the EU and the UN Security Council to encourage donations of vaccines to developing countries.

“It is time for leadership and for countries to step forward and say that we can protect our own and reach out and support others. It is a basic principle of solidarity and human rights.”

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, also speaking at the launch, said that lessons must be learned from the HIV and AIDS pandemic.

“Covid-19, like HIV and AIDS, is laying bare the underlying inequalities in our world and in our societies – inequalities that ultimately hurt all of us and threaten epidemic control and our long-term recovery efforts. Fixing them, however, is possible.”

“As Covid continues to devastate countries, the choice our governments face today is to take lifesaving action or repeat tragic and avoidable mistakes that resulted in millions of lives needlessly lost at the height of the HIV epidemic because life-saving treatments remained out of reach for the people who needed them. I urge the Irish government to reconsider their current position and support the TRIPS waiver – too many lives are at risk for them not to do so.”

The realities of the global inequity were also laid bare by Majo Rivas, a Paraguayan-Irish People’s Vaccine activist, who spoke about her family’s access to the vaccine in Paraguay.

“I began speaking up about the TRIPS waiver and global access to vaccines because I was worried for my loved ones.

“But this isn’t just about Paraguay. In the news, we see the funeral pyres in India, the overwhelmed health system in Uganda, more than 1,100 children under 10 have died of Covid-19 in Brazil. Each of them someone’s loved one, someone’s child, someone’s friend. We cannot allow more people in the Global South to lose lives and livelihoods; we need a People’s Vaccine now.”

Five Key Takeaways from the People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland launch:

1. The science is clear: The fairest and most effective way to end this pandemic is to ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to Covid-19 vaccines. Global access to Covid-19 vaccines is also in the self-interest of developed countries as ongoing outbreaks anywhere mean greater risk of new variants developing against which our vaccines may not be effective.

2. Governments and not-for-profit organisations have contributed tens of billions of Euro to the development of Covid-19 vaccines. In 2021 alone, sales of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines are expected to yield €50 billion. To produce sufficient vaccines for everyone globally, manufacturing capacity must be greatly increased; over 140 sites have been identified as having unused manufacturing potential including large reputable pharmaceutical companies such as Biolyse in Canada, Incepta in Bangladesh, Teva in Israel and Bavarian Nordic in Denmark – all of whom have asked to assist in the manufacture of vaccines. For this to happen, pharmaceutical companies must agree to share their know-how and all suitable qualified vaccine manufacturers must be permitted to produce vaccines free from patents.

3. COVAX is the programme established by the WHO and supported by a number of other organisations to purchase and distribute Covid-19 vaccines equitably on a global basis. COVAX is a welcome and vital process and it needs massively more support – but it alone is struggling to meet the scale of need. Even if it meets its goals, only 20% of people in developing countries will get the dose by the end of this year – and that is now looking very unlikely.

4. Donations are neither a sufficient nor sustainable solution, especially as not enough vaccines are being produced and rich countries are reluctant to let go of supplies they may need for booster shots or tackling variants. Charity is simply not going to fix the huge supply problem nor should people’s lives in so many countries around the world be dependent on unpredictable and uncertain charitable giving from rich nations. Donations should never be a substitute for sharing the rights to produce these vaccines and ensuring distributed manufacturing around the world so that countries have their own supplies they can rely on.

5. Ireland must use its voice within the EU to support the TRIPS waiver. The Alliance calls on governments to temporarily suspend intellectual property rights at the World Trade Organisation for Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. This will help break Big Pharma monopolies and increase supplies so there are enough doses for everyone, everywhere. Ireland must also endorse the World Health Organisation (WHO) COVID Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) to facilitate the sharing of know-how by pharmaceutical companies to increase vaccine production.

You can get involved by signing the petition at peoplesvaccine.ie

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