Oxfam slams Canada’s reticence on vaccine patent waivers

By: Lynn Desjardins
Oxfam says Canada could have been a leader in fighting COVID-19 vaccine inequality around the world but “instead has chosen to sit on the sidelines.” The anti-poverty non-profit made the statement on May 5, 2021 after the United States made a major reversal in policy and announced it would support efforts to waive the intellectual property rights of large pharmaceutical companies so that other  manufacturers can begin to make desperately needed vaccines.
“Loosening the monopoly grip that pharmaceutical companies have on these life-saving vaccines is an essential step toward increased manufacturing that would lead to worldwide immunization, helping Canada and everyone else,” said  Diana Sarosi, Oxfam Canada’s Director of Policy and Campaigns.

Patent waivers require consensus

For several months, the World Trade Organization has been considering the proposal to temporarily waive patent rights. Canada had not taken a position on the issue. Consensus among the 164 members of the World trade organization would be required for there to be a waiver on intellectual property rights. The pharmaceutical companies strongly oppose it.
After the U.S. announced its support for waiving protections, Canada again did not take a position. Trade Minister Mary Ng only stated:” “We look forward to working with the US on finding solutions to ensure a just and speedy global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

‘We are…at the mercy of a handful of giant pharmaceutical corporations’

The reaction from Oxfam Canada was bitter disappointment. “We are at a crucial inflexion point in the fight against the coronavirus, yet we have remained essentially at the mercy of a handful of giant pharmaceutical corporations that have monopoly control over the life-saving technologies we all need,” said Sarosi.