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WASHINGTON – Pharmaceutical companies are under fresh pressure to unlock vaccines for low and middle income countries, as the world marks one year from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration of the coronavirus pandemic.

US Senator Bernie Sanders and Democrat firebrand Rep. Jan Schakowsky will join leaders from the UN, South Africa, Indonesia, Colombia and the UK calling on pharma giants to stop standing in the way of measures to increase global production on the Covid-19 vaccine at an online rally tonight at 18:30 GMT.

The UK has a “golden opportunity” to pressure pharmaceutical companies to change course at this week’s World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting, but risks a “historic failure” that could cost countless more lives if it doesn’t act, campaigners have warned.

‘Drop the patents. End Vaccine Apartheid’ and ‘People’s vaccine, not profit vaccine’ were beamed onto the London office of the UK pharma lobby, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), in a protest organised by Global Justice Now. 

It comes amid a battle at the WTO to suspend intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines, spearheaded by India and South Africa. The move could rapidly increase vaccine production by suspending patents on all Covid-19 vaccines during the pandemic and allowing a global expansion of manufacturing. 

While rich countries like the UK have started rapidly vaccinating their populations, not a single dose had been administered in 130 poorer countries by mid-February. It’s estimated that nearly half of countries won’t have widespread vaccination until 2023.

Winnie Byanyima, the head of the United Nations joint programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), will tell the rally communities fighting AIDS “know the cost in lives when life-saving medicine is held up by patents and a refusal to share know-how – by the profits before lives and everything else.” 

Graça Machel, former freedom fighter and former first Education Minister of Mozambique, and the Archbishop of Cape Town, who has compared vaccine disparity to apartheid South Africa, will rally tonight for a “people’s vaccine” – a publicly owned vaccine made rapidly available to all.

Caroline Lucas MP, former leader of the UK Green Party, will condemn Boris Johnson’s lacklustre commitments to donate a small number of excess vaccines as insufficient.

The rally is organised by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of campaign groups including Global Justice Now, UNAIDS, Oxfam, Amnesty International, and ActionAid.

Ahead of the rally, Nick Dearden, Director of Global Justice Now, said:

“After one year and more than two million deaths, there is finally a glimmer of hope that this pandemic might end. But it’s nothing short of obscene that the richest countries in the world are pulling the ladder up behind them as they vaccinate their own populations.

Big pharma companies are refusing to share the recipes for the jabs, restricting production to their own supply chains and delaying the end of this deadly pandemic. We have the capacity to rapidly roll out vaccines across the world, but factories are lying idle because governments like ours are putting corporate profits ahead of the lives of people across the world. 

We have a golden opportunity to change course. If we don’t, we’ll be complicit in a historic failure that will cost countless more lives.”

Projections on Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry.