Northumberland and Peterborough chapters, allies call for urgent action on vaccine inequality at WTO

Joint Letter
Friday, April 8, 2022 - 16:00

In this letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Northumberland and Peterborough chapters of the Council of Canadians and allied organizations in the region call on the federal government to be "on the right side of history" and urgently support a comprehensive intellectual property waiver at the upcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial meeting in June.

Big Pharma' monopoly on vaccines and other medical products has been protected by strict rules enforced by the Geneva-based world body, holding back the global response to the pandemic. The Trudeau government has so far defended these rules at the WTO, following an intense (and ongoing) lobbying campaign by the industry.

Urgent action required by Canada at the WTO to support immediate global access to vital COVID-19 vaccines

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, P.C., M.P. Prime Minister of Canada
80 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2 justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca

Dear Prime Minister: On March 31, 2022, scientific director of the COVID-19 Science Advisory Table Dr. Peter Juni, referring to a steep rise in daily infections in Ontario based on wastewater estimates and hospital admissions, was quoted in the Toronto Star as saying "Basically. we're in either a resurgence, (or) a sixth wave…" That same day in an interview on CBC Radio's The Current, two pandemic experts from India and Nigeria warned that if wealthy nations continued to exercise vaccine hoarding while many in low income countries have yet to receive their first COVID-19 vaccine, the pandemic will continue for several years with new variants likely to emerge every six months.

We understand that as Prime Minister of Canada you have some difficult decisions to make in how best to respond to COVID-19 challenges both at home and abroad. However, we feel that Canada is failing the world community in the choices it is making and by doing so it is also increasing the risk of infection and death for Canadians.

Several groups from Northumberland County in Ontario sent you a letter dated May 3, 2021 requesting that your government actively support a joint proposal made in October 2020 by India and South Africa to temporarily waive certain patent obligations under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) until the COVID-19 emergency is over. Unfortunately, a year has passed by and Canada, along with a handful of other wealthy nations, continued to obstruct this call for a waiver at WTO TRIPS Council meetings. Since our May 3, 2021 letter to you, the world and Canada have been hard hit by both the Delta and Omicron variants with deadly consequences.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most severe global health and economic crisis in generations. In Canada and around the world the virus has disproportionately impacted women, migrant and lower-wage workers, racialized and other marginalized groups. Millions of lives have already been lost to this virus with some 270,000 recorded deaths from COVID-19 in low - and lower middle-income countries in the last six months alone.

If wealthy nations had agreed at the WTO to lift vaccine waivers when it was first requested in 2020, world-wide production for domestic and regional use would be a reality by now. While there is talk of a compromise in the works to pave the way for a waiver, we are concerned by the numerous flaws that the draft text contains, which could severely limit its impact. Specifically, we draw your attention to the following flaws in the compromise proposal:

  • It does not cover all of the intellectual property barriers to COVID medicine access;
  • It excludes entire countries so many countries with significant manufacturing capacity for COVID-19 vaccines will be unable to make use of the waiver;
  • It does not cover tests or treatments at a stage when these are critically important;
  • It could impose new barriers to production of generics.

Canada must help ensure that vaccines, treatments and other pandemic-related products are treated as global public goods available to all.

We are calling on Canada to be on the right side of history and at the June WTO Ministerial meeting reject the compromise waiver proposal in its current form. Canada shouldn't settle for anything less than an immediate and comprehensive waiver package to break down all existing barriers to the scaling up of the manufacture and the supply of lifesaving COVID-19 medical tools across the world. The world has waited long enough.

Endorsed by the following organizations from Northumberland and Peterborough:

Northumberland Chapter of the Council of Canadians;
Northumberland Coalition for Social Justice;
Northumberland Coalition Against Poverty;
Northumberland Chapter of Amnesty International
Peterborough and Kawarthas Chapter of the Council of Canadians
Peterborough and District Labour Council
Peterborough Health Coalition

Contact: Rick Arnold rickarnold@xplornet.com

cc

The Honourable Mary Ng, P.C., M.P. Minister of International Trade mary.ng@international.gc.ca
The Honourable Francois-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry francois-philippe.champagne@parl.gc.ca
Brian Masse, NDP Critic for Innovation, Science and Industry brian.masse@parl.gc.ca
Elizabeth May, Parliamentary Leader of the Green Party of Canada elizabeth.may@parl.gc.ca
Philip Lawrence, M.P. for Northumberland and Peterborough South, philip.lawrence@parl.gc.ca
Michelle Ferreri, MP for Peterborough-Kawartha michelle.ferreri@parl.gc.ca