John McDonnell MP
Last month, the former Prime Minister and World Health Organisation global health ambassador Gordon Brown said that the global vaccine roll-out was a
“stain on our global soul”.
The numbers are stark: three quarters of health workers in Africa remain unvaccinated; less than 5% of people in low-income countries have been fully vaccinated.
Companies such as Pfizer have made huge profits from their vaccines, but just 1% of its global supply has been delivered to COVAX.
Corporate philanthropy is not going to solve this crisis. We cannot sit back and hope that the pharmaceutical giants will do the right thing; to do so is a death sentence for millions of our fellow human beings. I have to say, in terms of the Government’s performance, that the UK has disgraced itself by voting to block the temporary TRIPS waiver that would put human life above private profit.
As has been said time and again, we live in a global world and we will not be safe from the virus until we are all safe. We know that the more there is transmission anywhere in world, the more likely that new variants will emerge; some will be more virulent, and others may be more lethal than omicron, although hopefully most will be mild.
As campaigning group Global Justice Now has said:
“Until we allow low and middle-income countries to access covid-19 vaccines, we will be trapped in an endless cycle of variants”.
If we want this pandemic to end, we have to stop its global spread—that means vaccinating everybody. The first way to achieve that is for the UK to stop blocking the TRIPS waiver at the WTO; secondly, to encourage UK pharmaceutical companies to share their technology with the World Health Organisation covid technology access pool and the mRNA technology transfer hub in South Africa.
A lot has been said about windfall taxes in recent days. Pharmaceutical companies have made windfall profits, largely derived from public funding. If they do not start sharing their vaccines and technology and start saving lives, I can think of no better circumstance for a windfall tax, with every penny used to fund vaccines around the world. If any Conservative Members are anxious about that, let me just say that it was Rab Butler who introduced a windfall tax 70 years ago this March.
I believe the time to act is now. The Government can do the right thing—they can save lives. If they do not act, their inaction will be, as Gordon Brown said, a stain on our global soul.