GENEVA (9 June 2021) – UN human rights experts* today called on leaders of the world’s largest economies to make sure people in the Global South get equal access to COVID-19 vaccines and not to allow the profit motive to undermine global health and equity.
“Everyone has a right to have access to a vaccine for COVID-19 that is safe, effective, timely and based on the application of the best scientific development,” the experts said ahead of the G7 summit of leaders to be held in the UK on 11-13 June.
“Now is the time for international solidarity and cooperation to provide effective assistance to all governments in their vaccination efforts and to save lives,” they said. “It is not the time for protracted negotiations or for lobbying to erect barriers in order to protect corporate profits.”
The experts stressed that the extraordinarily speedy production of safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 has not been followed by swift action to ensure equity of access across all countries and regions.
“Billions of people in the Global South are being left behind. They see vaccines as a mirage or a privilege for the developed world,” the experts said. “This situation will unnecessarily prolong the crisis, drastically increase the death toll and deepen economic distress, possibly sowing the seeds of social unrest.”
The G7 leaders must make it their top priority to protect the rights to life and health of people in the most socially and economically precarious situations at a time when millions face poverty and hunger, said the experts, echoing their statement last year on the human costs of the pandemic.
“It is shocking that, according to WHO reports, less than one percent of all vaccines administered so far have gone to low-income countries,” they said. They stressed the importance of ensuring that intellectual property rights do not become a barrier to low-cost production and expanded supply. Also they urged pharmaceutical companies to join WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) for sharing know-how, data, and to facilitate technology transfer.
They recalled that while the TRIPs Agreement on intellectually property rights provides for certain flexibilities, including for the possibility of compulsory licensing in cases of national emergency, these remain insufficient to respond to the current pandemic.
“Maximising production of safe vaccines must take precedence over profiting from a global pandemic,” they said. “States must ensure that legal protection for intellectual property and patents doesn’t undermine the right of everyone to get access to a safe, timely and effective vaccine.”
The experts reminded States to act in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and ensure that multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) “neither restrain the ability of their member States to meet their duty to protect nor hinder business enterprises from respecting human rights”.
They also highlighted the need to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to produce vaccines themselves by ensuring financial and technical support for local manufacturing – some of which are already taking off – and safeguarding access to active ingredients required for production.
The experts endorsed a recent statement by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that said unequal access to vaccines for least developed and developing countries is not only discriminatory, but also undermines progress on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
“We are particularly impressed by the role civil society organizations and campaigners have played in galvanising support from numerous States and stakeholders behind the call for a vaccine available to all, everywhere and free of charge,” they said.
*The experts: Mr. Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Mr. Dante Pesce (Chairperson), Mr. Surya Deva (Vice-Chairperson), Ms. Elżbieta Karska, Mr. Githu Muigai, and Ms. Anita Ramasastry, Working Group on Business and Human Rights:; Mr. Saad Alfarargi,Special Rapporteur on the right to development and Mr. Obiora C. Okafor, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity.
The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
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