EU leaders should stop squabbling and overrule pharma monopolies to boost supply


24 March 2021

The EU Council meets tomorrow, Thursday 25 to discuss the European-wide scarcity of Covid-19 vaccines that is sparking a dispute between European countries and the UK. The People’s Vaccine Alliance, supported by world leaders and over 50 organisations worldwide, is campaigning to ensure that safe and effective vaccines are mass-produced for all people around the world as quickly as possible. It has spokespeople available for interview.

The spat between the EU and UK over vaccine shortages was predictable and avoidable. More lives are being put at risk with Covid-19 surging again across Europe. Depending upon just a handful of pharmaceutical companies to produce enough vaccines for the world was never going to work. Yet UK and EU leaders have failed to unlock the pharmaceutical monopolies which are artificially restricting supply and blocking other manufacturers from joining the effort. 

Last week the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said “all options are on the table” to secure more vaccine supplies, including waiving intellectual property rights. Recent polling in Ireland, France, Germany and Italy shows public support for their governments in overruling pharma monopolies to ensure that safe and effective vaccines are mass produced. 

Overriding intellectual property rules and insisting companies transfer the vaccine blueprints to the World Health Organisation, in order to unlock production capacity around the world, must be top of the EU agenda. Covid-19 is an unprecedented health emergency and not the time to put the profit interests of a few huge pharma corporations ahead of saving lives. As one Paraguayan-Irish woman living in Cork said in the Examiner today: “This is not about “aid”, it is about solidarity and valuing human life.”

This dispute between rich countries does nothing to tackle the underlying cause of vaccine scarcity which is delaying the end to this pandemic. Even the UK – well ahead in its vaccine roll out – faces huge economic damage as its trading partners go largely unvaccinated and the risk of more vaccine-tolerant mutations emerge. People across Europe are suffering and dying due to lack of supply – so too are millions of people in developing countries, most of which are yet to administer a single dose. The root of this problem is the same: too little supply because of pharmaceutical monopolies. Indeed, shortages in Europe and the UK now mean they are tapping into already scarce vaccine supplies meant for poorer countries from the Serum Institute in India. 

Instead of squabbling with each other, the EU and UK should support developing countries in over-riding big pharma’s monopoly control over the vaccines and unlocking more supplies for Europe and the world. They can do this by backing the TRIPs waiver at the WTO – which is supported by over a hundred countries - and by supporting the transfer of vaccine technology through the WHO’s Covid Technology Access Pool (C-TAP). More manufacturers are coming forward by the day from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Senegal, Denmark and Canada with offers to make vaccines but are now blocked from doing so. 


Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive 
Anna Marriot, Oxfam Health Policy Manager 
Dr Mohga Kamal Yanni, Global Health Expert and Senior Health Policy Advisor to The People Vaccine Alliance. 
Max Lawson, Oxfam Head of Inequality Policy. 
Jeroen Kwakkenbos, Oxfam Senior Aid Policy & Development Finance Advisor. 
Peter Kamalingan, Oxfam Pan Africa Programme Director.

Visit People's Vaccine Alliance: 

Caroline Reid | | 087 912 3165 

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