Vaccine equity advocates and Pharma representatives to debate COVID-19 patent waiver at Oireachtas Committee

People’s Vaccine Alliance (PVA) Ireland and Doctors for Vaccine Equity calling for Government to support local production of COVID-19 vaccines, tests, treatments worldwide

Civil Society, academics and representatives of the pharmaceutical industry have been called to appear before an Oireachtas committee to discuss the Government’s continued opposition to a TRIPS waiver.

The intellectual property (TRIPS) waiver would facilitate the local production of COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments in low and middle-income countries and has been opposed by both the Irish Government and the pharmaceutical industry to date. The Committee hearing will be one of the few times globally that the industry is being called to account for their opposition.

Representatives from the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) and BioPharmChem Ireland, the largest pharmaceutical industry representative groups in Ireland, have been called to appear before the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment on Wednesday, 11th May from 9.30am.  This Committee hearing follows a Seanad motion in December that called on the Government to support the TRIPS waiver.

The committee will also be addressed by Oxfam Ireland CEO Jim Clarken, representing the People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland of which Oxfam Ireland is a founding member, and Professor Aisling McMahon, Professor of Law at Maynooth University and specialist in health and intellectual property law. Expert witnesses Dimitri Eynikel, MSF’s representative to the EU and Dr Christine Kelly, Doctors for Vaccine Equity member and Consultant in Infectious Diseases at St Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin (and Clinical Fellow, UCD CEPHR - Centre for Experimental Pathogen Host Research) will be part of the delegation to answer questions from the Committee.

At the hearing, Jim Clarken will condemn the Irish Government’s stance in opposition to the TRIPS waiver at EU and World Trade Organisation levels. He will set out the case for supporting such a waiver, both for people in low and middle-income countries, as well as for Ireland.


Vaccine Inequity

While Ireland has seen the lifting of almost all COVID-19 public health measures and the hospitalisation and mortality rates have fallen dramatically from the Omicron peak, this is not the case in low and middle-income countries.

Just 13% of people in low-income countries have received two vaccine doses, compared to 75% of people in high-income countries. Less than 1% of people in low-income countries are boosted, compared to over 60% of people in Ireland.

In the recent ‘Pandemic of Greed’ report published by Oxfam in March 2022, Oxfam calculated that for every death in a high-income country, an estimated four other people have died in a low or lower-middle income country. On a per capita basis, deaths in low and lower middle-income countries are 31 percent higher than high income countries.


Every minute four children around the world have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID

Speaking ahead of the hearing, Mr Clarken said: “The lack of access to vaccines and therapeutics is translating into huge numbers of deaths: over three million COVID-19 deaths have occurred since the Omicron variant emerged, the majority of which occurred in low- and middle-income countries. Our recent Pandemic of Greed report revealed a harrowing stat that every minute, four children around the world have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID. In India alone, more than two million children lost a caregiver.

“A TRIPS waiver would not just prevent large levels of mortality and morbidity in low-income countries. It could also help to prevent the emergence of vaccine resistant variants that have the potential to drag Ireland back into lockdowns and restrictions. Ireland’s continued opposition to the TRIPS waiver is also in contravention of Ireland’s human rights obligations and it is greatly damaging Ireland’s international reputation as a champion of low-income countries.

“Ireland and the EU’s most recent so-called ‘compromise proposal’ is not endorsed by any other member of the WTO. And it is utterly insufficient for a pandemic that has killed an estimated 20 million people and rising.

“The need for Ireland’s support of the TRIPS waiver is pressing, as the WTO ministerial conference will be held in June. Low-income countries can’t wait any longer. The TRIPS waiver is supported by over 100 countries, the WHO, the Seanad and the majority of the Irish public. “Allowing local production has worked before, during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, although millions of lives were lost before such production was allowed. We cannot continue to repeat the mistakes of the past.

“It’s time Ireland supported the TRIPS waiver, helped save millions of lives and put an end to this pandemic for everyone.”


Notes to Editors:

QUAD proposal: Recently, it has been reported that the EU is supporting a so-called QUAD proposal or compromise proposal.  This proposal arose following informal discussions amongst the US, India, South Africa, and the EU.  However, it is not clear, if India, South Africa, or the US support the text. This QUAD proposal, in its current form, does not offer a useful pathway to upscale COVID-19 vaccine production as it only covers vaccines, excluding treatments and diagnostics, it fails to address non-patent intellectual property barriers such as trade secrets, and it restricts which countries can make use of it. Also, limitations and requirements in the draft text could possibly undermine existing flexibilities and this would be an unnecessary step backwards.

About Oxfam Ireland: Oxfam, a founding member the global People’s Vaccine Campaign, while Oxfam Ireland is a founding member of the People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland, which is calling on the Irish Government to:

  • Ireland must use its voice within the EU to support the TRIPS waiver - Call 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. For more info, click here and here. 
  • Ireland must 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.

About The People’s Vaccine Alliance: The People’s Vaccine Alliance Ireland membership includes:  Access to Medicines Ireland, ACET, Action Aid Ireland, Amnesty International Ireland, AMRI, Centre for Global Education , Christian Aid Ireland, Comhlamh, Doctors for Vaccine Equity, Friends of the Earth Ireland, GOAL, Gorey Malawi Health Partnership, ICCL, Irish Congress of Trade Unions, Irish General Practice Nurses Educational Association, Irish Global Health Network, Irish National Teachers' Organisation, Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, Misean Cara, Oxfam Ireland, Plan International Ireland, Trinity Centre for Global Health, Trócaire, Voluntary Service International, 80:20 Educating and Acting for a Better World.