Press Releases

Majority of people in Ireland think monopoly control of Covid-19 vaccines should end to speed up supply

  • Ireland and EU blocking proposals for ‘emergency vaccine waiver’ that could rapidly scale up global production   
  • Significant concerns about health risks and threat to Irish economy if virus continues to spread globally    

Wednesday 10 March 2021

Today, one year on from the declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic, an Oxfam Ireland survey reveals that more than six in 10 adults in Ireland (62%) say the government should ensure that pharmaceutical companies who develop Covid-19 vaccines should not retain monopoly control. Instead, they want the Government to ensure companies share vaccine science and technology with other approved companies around the world. Only 18 percent of those surveyed were in support of the Government’s current approach of protecting pharmaceutical companies’ monopoly on Covid-19 vaccines. 

The findings come as more than 100 developing countries, led by South Africa and India will again make the case at the WTO for a waiver of Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) on March 10th and 11th. This waiver would override the monopolies held by pharmaceutical companies during the pandemic and allow an urgently needed scale-up in the production of safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines to ensure all countries get access to the doses they need to protect their populations and join the economic recovery ahead. The EU continues to block this proposal – an approach that is currently supported by Ireland.  

Oxfam’s polling also reveals significant concerns about risks associated with the continuation of the pandemic globally. Two thirds of those surveyed believe Covid-19 will remain a risk to personal health, while 76 percent think it will remain a threat to the Irish economy if the virus continues to spread elsewhere in the world. Almost three in five of those surveyed believe it will be faster to vaccinate everyone if vaccine science and technologies are shared.  

Responding to the polling results, Jim Clarken, Chief Executive of Oxfam Ireland, said: “There is clear support among the Irish public for equitable vaccine supply, as well as evident concern about the continued and prolonged impact this virus will have if it continues to spread beyond Ireland.  

“People in developing countries need access to vaccines to protect lives and reduce the associated risks the virus poses, just as people in Ireland do. Without united global action, the Covid-19 health crisis, and resulting economic fallout and disruption will continue to have grave effects here in Ireland and worldwide."

The current limits to global Covid-19 vaccine supplies could result in some countries having to wait until at least 2023 for mass immunisation. While countries in the World Health Organisation’s COVAX facility will see the arrival of doses in the coming days, the amounts available mean only three percent of their populations can hope to be vaccinated by mid-year, and only one fifth at best by the end of 2021.   

All the leading vaccine developers have benefitted from billions of dollars in public subsidies, yet they have been handed the monopoly rights to produce and profit from them – already generating billions in revenue since the first vaccines were rolled out.  

At the same time, qualified vaccine producers all over the world are on standby, ready to produce more vaccines if they are allowed access to the technology and know-how now being held under lock and key – even during these extraordinary times. New capacity could be brought on stream within months if the political will existed to end monopoly control.  

Clarken continued: “We have already lost two-and-a-half million lives due to this deadly virus, and many countries are battling it with limited health facilities and workers, and no certainty about vaccine supplies. By allowing a small group of pharmaceutical companies to decide who lives and who dies, rich nations are prolonging this unprecedented global health emergency and putting countless more lives on the line. At this crucial time, developing countries need solidarity – not opposition.  

“Such global inequality is not only a catastrophic moral failure that will lead to needless suffering and loss of life, it means that all countries and populations are at greater risk of new variants developing which current Covid-19 vaccines may not remedy.  

“To control the virus, the simple reality is, enough vaccines need to be produced in different geographies, priced affordably, and allocated globally. Thus far, the world is failing on all fronts.   

“With so many of the world’s developing nations – nations that Ireland has a long-shared history with through its humanitarian and development work – supporting this emergency waiver, Ireland should continue its moral and public health leadership now by prioritising saving lives over profit. We can achieve this by making Covid-19 vaccines a global public good – a People’s Vaccine that ensures no one is left behind.”  

Ends   

To arrange interviews or speak to a spokesperson contact:

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | 087 912 3165

Notes to editors 

  • The survey into Irish people’s attitude to Covid-19 vaccine inequality was undertaken on behalf of Oxfam Ireland by Coyne Research and based on a nationally representative online survey carried out among 1,000 adults aged 18+. Quotas were placed on the number of interviews achieved in each demographic grouping (age, gender, region and social class) to ensure it matched the Irish population. All fieldwork was conducted between the 25th February – 5th March 2021. 

Key findings:   

  • Over 6 in 10 adults in Ireland (62%) believe that the monopoly that pharmaceutical companies have on Covid-19 vaccine science and technology they have developed should end. Instead, people want the Government to ensure that these companies share vaccine science and technology with other approved companies worldwide, and that Governments should fairly compensate them for doing so.  
  • Just 18 percent of those surveyed were in support of the Government’s current approach of protecting pharmaceutical companies’ monopoly on Covid-19 vaccine knowledge.   
  • Three quarters of adults (76%) believe that the continued spread of Covid-19 elsewhere in the world is a threat to the Irish economy – with over half of those surveyed (52%) believing it is a ‘significant threat’.    
  • Over two thirds of adults (67%) believe that Covid-19 elsewhere in the world is a threat to them personally – with almost half stating it is a ‘significant threat’. 60% of those aged over fifty-four believe it is a ‘significant threat’ to them personally.   
  • Almost 6 in 10 adults (58%) believe the Government should be doing more to ensure that everyone in the world receives a Covid-19 vaccine this year.   
  • Almost 3 in 5 adults (56%) believe it would be faster to vaccinate everyone if formulas and technology were shared whilst just under 1 in 5 believe it would make no difference.   

 

  • At the end of February 2021, Oxfam Ireland and a coalition of Irish organisations, networks and unions, wrote an open letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin urgently requesting Ireland’s support for proposals to allow Covid-19 vaccine technology and ‘know how’ to be shared openly through an emergency waiver at the World Trade Organisation.
  • In a written answer to a PQ from Róisín Shortall TD on 3 March 2021, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar TD explained Ireland’s support for the EU’s opposition to the proposed ‘emergency vaccine waiver’ at the WTO as follows:   

“The EU’s current position on the proposed waiver is that the WTO international agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (the TRIPS Agreement) allows countries the flexibility to respond to the concerns raised by proposers of the waiver. Specifically, the TRIPS agreement allows compulsory licensing which is when a government permits an entity to produce the patented product or process without the consent of the patent owner.”     

However, compulsory licensing (CL) is not a suitable mechanism to deliver global equitable access for vaccines given the need for "know-how", rather than just IP, which isn't covered by CL. CL is not appropriate in a pandemic as its too slow, and there are considerable legal obstacles around many countries effectively using CL (see https://jme.bmj.com/content/47/3/142.full). In addition, many national systems (including Ireland) do not facilitate a fully usable framework for CL. As a result, no country has applied for a CL to produce Covid 19 vaccines despite the global pandemic.     

  • Almost one million people worldwide have signed a call by the People’s Vaccine Alliance – a group of campaigning organisations including Oxfam, Frontline AIDS, UNAIDS, Global Justice Now and the Yunus Centre – for rich nations to stop protecting big pharma monopolies and profits over people’s lives.      
  • The Alliance warned that in South Africa, Malawi and other African nations history is in danger of repeating itself. Millions of people died in the early 2000’s because pharmaceutical monopolies had priced successful treatments for HIV/AIDS out of reach at up to $10,000 a year. Pharma monopolies were eventually overruled allowing the mass production of cheap effective treatment for those living with HIV/AIDS, meaning millions of people are alive today who would otherwise have perished.      
  • Recent public opinion polls carried out by YouGov for the Alliance in the US, France, Germany and the UK found that on average, across these countries, more than two-thirds (69 per cent) of people thought that governments should ensure vaccine science and know-how is shared with qualified manufacturers around the world rather than remaining the exclusive property of a handful of pharmaceutical giants and that vaccine developers should be adequately compensated for this.    
  • Drawing on data from OurWorldInData, Bloomberg, John Hopkins University and additional searches, of the 79 low and lower-middle income countries, as classified by the World Bank, the majority (at least 47 countries) are yet to vaccinate anyone. This figure is accurate as of 4 March and factors in reported planned deliveries of COVAX vaccines in the coming days even if vaccines are yet to be administered. We recognise that more unreported COVAX shipments may arrive in the interim.    
  • Last week, The Associated Press found factories on three continents whose owners said they could begin producing hundreds of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines on short notice, if only they had the blueprints and technical know how to do so. Suhaib Siddiqi, former director of chemistry at Moderna, producer of one of the first approved vaccines, said that with the blueprint and technical advice, a modern factory should be able to produce vaccines in at most three to four months.     
  • Countries like South Sudan, Yemen and Malawi have seen dramatic surges in cases in recent months. Malawi saw a 9,500 percent increase in cases as the South African mutation spread through the country and two of their cabinet ministers died in one day.   
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Irish aid agencies to tell Oireachtas Committee of immense suffering of millions in Syria following a decade of war

Tuesday 9 March 2021

The suffering in war-torn Syria is at its worst point in the ten-year-long conflict, with millions now in dire need of humanitarian assistance, a number of Irish humanitarian aid agencies will tell an Oireachtas Committee today (Tuesday March 9th).

The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence will hear that more than 13 million Syrian people are now in desperate need of some type of aid, with humanitarian organisations working inside Syria facing “an impossible task” of reaching growing numbers of desperate people with limited assistance.

Addressing the Committee ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Syrian conflict the aid agencies will also highlight how the chronic humanitarian situation has been worsened due to a deteriorating economic situation, a surge in cases of COVID-19 and high inflation leading to food and basic commodity price increases.  80 per cent of Syrians are now estimated to live below the poverty line, and 9.3 million people are dependent on food assistance.

In a joint statement in advance of today’s Committee meeting Oxfam Ireland, World Vision Ireland, GOAL, Concern Worldwide and Trócaire, say that Ireland, with a seat on the UN Security Council, is uniquely placed to play a role in the Syria crisis.

“Ireland, a newly elected member of the UN Security Council, is playing an influential role in efforts to resolve the crisis. An immediate priority for Ireland is ensuring humanitarian access is protected.

“With Norway, Ireland is leading on negotiations to renew the UN Security Council Resolution and prevent the closure of the only remaining UN access point for humanitarian aid from neighbouring Turkey into north-west Syria. This access point is a lifeline for over four million people many of whom depend solely on aid to survive.”

The agencies said while the Irish government and the Irish public have been consistently generous in their support of the aid effort, global humanitarian funding is not keeping pace with increasing need.

“Non-governmental organisations working inside Syria have an impossible task of reaching growing numbers of desperate people with limited assistance. Aid workers face enormous security challenges as Syria ranks high in the list of the most dangerous places to deliver humanitarian assistance. More than 400 aid workers have lost their lives in Syria since the conflict started."

The statement added: “As we mark the tenth anniversary of conflict in Syria, civilians continue to endure unimaginable levels of suffering. What is especially heart breaking is the impact on children who have suffered grave violation, who know nothing but war and who have been denied access to education.

“Today, 13 million Syrians are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, living in crowded camps or cramped and dangerous urban dwellings, both inside the country and in the wider region. They are exposed to harsh winters and intense summer heat. Water and sewage infrastructure is very poor, making basic hygiene such as hand washing during this time of COVID-19 difficult.”

An estimated 3 million people now have some form of disability or lifelong impairment due to a combination of hostilities and a health system shattered by years of war.

END

Contact

Caroline Reid | caroline.reid@oxfam.org | 087 912 3165

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Letter to the editor marking the tenth anniversary of the Syria conflict

Monday 8 March 2021

Sir,

As we mark the tenth anniversary of conflict in Syria, civilians continue to endure unimaginable levels of suffering. What is especially heartbreakingis the impact on children who have suffered grave violation, who know nothing but war and who have been denied access to education.

Today,13 million Syrians are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, living in crowded camps or cramped and dangerous urban dwellings, both inside the country and in the wider region. They are exposed to harsh winters and intense summer heat. Water and sewage infrastructure is very poor, making basic hygiene such as hand washing during this time of Covid-19 difficult. An estimated three million people now have some form of disability or lifelong impairment due to a combination of hostilities and a health system shattered by years of war.

While the Irish government and the Irish public have been consistently generous in theirsupport of the aid effort, global humanitarian funding is not keeping pace with increasing need. Non-governmental organisations working inside Syria have an impossible task of reaching growing numbers of desperate people with limited assistance. Aid workers face enormous security challenges as Syria ranks first in the list of the most dangerous places to deliver humanitarian assistance. More than 400 aid workers have lost their lives in Syria since the conflict started.

The humanitarian situation is worsened by a surge in cases of Covid-19 and economic collapse, leading to high inflation and food and basic commodity price increases. 80 percent of Syrians live below the poverty line and 9.3 million people are dependent on food assistance. The displaced population is living with endless uncertainty over if,and when,the war will end,and they can return safely home.

Ireland, a newly elected member of the UN Security Council, is playing an influential role in efforts to resolve the crisis. An immediate priority for Ireland is ensuring humanitarian access is protected. With Norway, Ireland is leading on negotiations to renew the UN Security Council Resolution and prevent the closure ofthe only remaining UN access point for humanitarian aid from neighbouring Turkey into north-west Syria. This access point is a lifeline for over four million people many of whom depend solely on aid to survive.The deadline for the renewal of this resolution is July 10th 2021.

In addition, Ireland can show leadership in conflict resolution and peace building that is inclusive of all Syrians.

The people of Syria have endured enough. Ten years on,it is time for universal efforts to foster peace and to meanwhile ensure everything possible is done to reduce the suffering.

Yours

Niall McLoughlin, CEO, World Vision Ireland

Jim Clarken, CEO, Oxfam Ireland

Siobhan Walsh, CEO,GOAL

Dominic McSorley, CEO,Concern

Caoimhe De Barra, CEO, Trócaire

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Letter to the Editor: If women stop, the world stops

8 March 2021

Dear Editor,

It’s often said that “a woman’s work is never done” –and judging by the millions of hours of paid and unpaid care work undertaken by women and girls globally, which rapidly increased with the onset of Covid-19, that old adage is truer than ever.

The pandemic has been called “the great equaliser”. However, the past 12 months made it clear that the most excluded, oppressed, and vulnerable groups, such as girls and women in all their diversity, have been disproportionately affected by its impact.

Globally, women have been the first to lose their jobs. They make up a majority of our frontline health workers and have shouldered the increased responsibilities of unpaid care work.

Care work is the “hidden engine” that keeps the wheels of our economies,businesses and societies turning. Before the pandemic hit, women and girls undertook more than 75 percent of unpaid care work in the world and made up two-thirds of the paid care workforce –carrying out 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day. When valued at minimum wage, this would represent a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year.

Women in Ireland, meanwhile, put in 38 million hours of unpaid care work every week, adding at least €24 billion of value to the Irish economy every year.

Around the world, the pressure on carers, both unpaid and paid, is set to increase as the global population grows and ages. An estimated 2.3 billion people will need care by 2030, an increase of 200 million since 2015.

So, in the run-up to International Women’s Day 2021, it might be worth considering another saying –one that reflects the true value of all this work: “If women stop, the world stops.”

Yours etc

Whelma Villar-Kennedy

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Letter to the Editor: Make the invisible visible

8 March 2021

Dear Editor, 

Few people have escaped the effects of the pandemic. For some, the past 12 months have resulted in untold grief; for others, the loss of a livelihood. Some people have experienced both.  

From the old to the young, lockdowns have exacerbated suffering. The ongoing lockdowns have made countless people feel trapped – like there’s no escape.

But for the women and girls trapped at home with a violent partner or family member over the past 12 months, they have been horrific.

This particular gendered impact of the pandemic on women was immediately evident: reports of gender-based violence surged in many countries that introduced lockdowns to suppress the spread of the virus. 

Ireland was no different. Over the first six months of the pandemic, there was a sharp increase in the number of women and children seeking support from domestic violence services. 

According to Safe Ireland, a national agency which works with domestic violence organisations, 3,450 women and 589 children sought support and advice for the very first time between March and August 2020. This equates to a monthly average of 575 women and 98 children accessing services for the first time.

Meanwhile, the lack of consideration for the vulnerability in most countries’ Covid responses has been shocking, according to findings from the United Nations Development Programme’s Covid-19 Gender Response Tracker. 

The tracker, which monitors policy measures enacted by governments worldwide to address the Covid-19 crisis, has revealed that less than 15 percent of countries introduced measures to tackle violence against women and girls.

As we prepare to mark International Women’s Day 2021, we need to listen to the message of the World Health Organisation which asks countries to collect gender-disaggregated data on the effects of Covid-19 on men and women. 

Why? Because it says that data and information make the invisible visible. 

And that’s the very least that women and girls experiencing domestic violence deserve.

Yours etc 

Rosa Brandon

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