SEATTLE — German Chancellor Angela Merkel is being met with demonstrations over global vaccine access as she visits the United States today.
Germany has rejected temporarily waiving trade-related intellectual property rights (TRIPS), so low- and middle-income nations around the world can produce COVID-19 vaccines.
Protests took place at German consulates across the country leading up to Merkel’s visit, including in Seattle last weekend.
Hillary Haden, executive director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, said TRIPS can be waived in extraordinary circumstances.
“There could not possibly be more extraordinary circumstances than the ones that we have found ourselves in for the last year,” Haden argued. “So from there, our hope is that we can get those rules waived and that developing countries will be able to manufacture their own vaccines.”
Germany said manufacturing supply and ensuring quality control are the biggest factors in vaccine production, not patent rights. BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer to develop a vaccine, is headquartered in Germany.
Gulrez Azhar, a Washington resident with family in India who worked in public health at the University of Washington, said he’s lost two uncles in India to COVID-19. He pointed out everyone in his family has been symptomatic as the pandemic sweeps the country, and made clear the importance of a vaccine.
“It’s literally the difference between life and death,” Azhar stressed. “With an IP waiver in place, people would be able to manufacture at scale in the developing parts of the world. I mean, you’re talking about hundreds of millions of people, possibly billions of people.”
Dr. Pauline Muchina, representative for Africa at the American Friends Service Committee, is from Kenya and is disheartened her home country might have to wait until 2024 for the vaccine.
She said it’s in the interest of every country to get as many people vaccinated as possible to stop the spread of more infectious variants, and implored Merkel to waive TRIPS.
“To have vaccines technology when there is a global pandemic, a global emergency, and to refuse to share that technology, that is not humane,” Muchina asserted.
The World Trade Organization is expected to meet at the end of the month to discuss TRIPS.
Photo Credit: Protesters demonstrated outside the German House in Seattle over the weekend. (Washington Fair Trade Coalition)
Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.