Europe must back Biden to lift vaccine patents, says Mary Robinson

Published: 16th April 2021

Former UN Human Rights Commissioner and Irish President, Mary Robinson, a vocal advocate for a People’s Vaccine has joined calls of 174 former world leaders and Nobel laureates for a patent waiver at the international level. This was prompted by news that US President Biden is considering supporting a proposal at the WTO that would temporarily suspend Covid-19 vaccine patents. 

Mary Robinson asks European leaders “to put the collective right to safety for all ahead of everything else - and come together to end this pandemic.” This refers to Europe’s decision to block efforts led by South Africa and India and supported by over 100 countries to share the vaccine recipe.  

Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, has said “it is not enough to find a vaccine. We must make sure that citizens around the world have access to it.” Europe now needs to walk the talk and stop prioritising pharma profit over people. It can do this by reconsidering its position at the WTO table, and instead back worldwide calls to share the vaccine recipe.  

Oxfam, as part of the People’s Vaccine Alliance, is calling for equal access to vaccines for everyone. This is the right thing to do, morally as well as politically. Choosing not to vaccinate poorer countries will deliver a hefty bill of approximately €7.2 trillion and a 6% contraction of the EU economy. It also increases the risk of new mutations springing up. Women have also gotten the short end of the stick with many taking on disproportionately heavy loads of unpaid work.  

By backing the worldwide call to share the vaccine recipe, Europe will not only save millions of peoples’ lives in and outside of Europe, but also mitigate the risk to our economies and the current backslide in workplace gender equality.  

Notes to editors

  • Spokespeople are available to comment.  

  • Read Mary Robinson’s op-ed here

  • Mary Robinson has joined 174 former world leaders, including Gordon Brown, Helen Clark and Juan Manuel Santos in a joint letter to US President Joe Biden calling for the Covid-19 vaccine patent to be waived. The full letter and list of signatories are available here. This letter was coordinated by the People’s Vaccine, a coalition of organisations and activists including Oxfam. 

  • Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen’s statement.  

  • There is a proposal at the WTO table for a waiver of intellectual property rules, known as the TRIPS waiver. This would allow for a scale up in manufacturing globally, overcoming artificial supply constraints while helping to reduce further distribution crises. 

  • Studies estimate most poorer nations will not have vaccinated their entire populations until 2024

  • According to a recent survey, two-thirds of epidemiologists estimated in about a year, virus mutations will render the current vaccines ineffective and new or modified vaccines will be needed. 88 percent said that the low vaccine rollout in many countries increases the risk of vaccine-resistant mutations.  

  • According to a recent study, not vaccinating developing countries risks costing the global economy $9.2 trillion in GDP (approx €7.2 trillion). This would cause the EU’s economy as a whole to contract by 6 per cent.  

  • Women make up the majority of the informal workforce. Many saw their income fall by 60% in the first months of the pandemic. Women also do the lion’s share of increased unpaid care. 

Contact information

Jade Tenwick | EU Media Officer | | mobile +32 473 56 22 60