Dear Prime Minister: ‘The time to show leadership on global vaccination efforts is now’

The evidence is clear and the demand is high: Canada must support a temporary waiver for vaccines at the WTO, argue a group of 122 researchers, epidemiologists, doctors and advocates

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

As researchers, epidemiologists, physicians and advocates from the South Asian diaspora who call Canada home, we are watching the second wave of the pandemic that has struck South Asia in absolute shock and horror. While the Indian government may have been ineffective in the current crisis, Canada failing to recognize how this crisis affects the world would amount to an equivalent complacency. India’s crisis mirrors the devastation currently being experienced in many low and middle-income countries. This pandemic is escalating a global crisis, not only for health, but also for economies. As we have seen, uncontrolled epidemic spread is contributing to the emergence of new viral variants and threatening the effectiveness of global vaccination efforts, with severe consequences for marginalized groups across the world.

The only way to combat this pandemic successfully is through a massive global vaccination campaign on a scale and timeline never before undertaken. This requires the production of effective tools and technologies to fight COVID-19 at scale and coordinated global distribution efforts.

The Trade-Related Aspect of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement at the World Trade Organization (WTO) is leading to the opposite outcome. Vaccine production is hindered by granting pharmaceutical companies monopoly power through protection of intellectual property rights, industrial designs and trade secrets. Pharmaceutical companies’ refusal to engage in health technology knowledge transfer makes large-scale, global vaccine production in (and for) low- and middle-income countries all but impossible. The current distribution of vaccines globally speaks to these obstacles.

Hundreds of civil society groups, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the elected governments of over 100 countries, including India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have come together and stated that current intellectual property protections reduce the availability of vaccines for protecting their people. On May 5, 2021 the United States also announced its intention to support a temporary waiver for vaccines at the WTO.

We are writing to ask our Canadian government to demonstrate its commitment to an equitable global pandemic response by supporting a temporary waiver of the TRIPS agreement. But clearly that is a necessary but not a sufficient first step. We recognize that scaling up vaccine production requires more than just a waiver of intellectual property rights, so we further request that our government support the WHO’s COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) to facilitate knowledge sharing and work with the WTO to address the supply chain and export constraints currently impeding vaccine production. Finally, because vaccines must be rolled out as part of an integrated strategy to end the acute phase of the epidemic, we request that Canada support the full scope of the TRIPS waiver, which extends to all essential COVID-19 products and technologies, including vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

The status quo is clearly not working fast enough to end the acute phase of the pandemic globally. This waiver respects global intellectual property frameworks and takes advantage of existing provisions for exceptions during emergencies, as enshrined in the TRIPS agreement. Empowering countries to take measures to protect their own people is fundamental to bringing this pandemic to an end.

The G7 is meeting next month, and the WTO is meeting over the coming weeks. Canada has an important voice at these tables and this is a valuable opportunity for our government to reflect the core Canadian values of partnership, human rights, equity and solidarity with the most marginalized during this unprecedented—yet preventable—crisis. For once, the global public interest is in lock step with national interests. The evidence is clear, the demand is high, and the time for Canada to demonstrate moral and ethical leadership on this issue is now.

We are calling for the following to address global inequities in access to COVID-19 medicines and vaccines:

  • Sign on to India and South Africa’s proposal to waive obligations under the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) during the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that it remains broad to incorporate diagnostics and therapeutics, not just vaccines, and respects local safety regulations.
  • Leverage our diplomatic relations to lead global partnerships in supporting the TRIPS waiver and lifting any bans globally on the export of materials necessary to vaccine production.
  • Support COVAX in meeting its goal to cover 20 per cent of populations of all participating countries in 2021 by abiding by the WHO’s call to cease making bilateral deals to contract COVID-19 vaccines from private manufacturers, delaying further withdrawal of doses from COVAX, and donating surplus supply to COVAX as urgently as possible, in line with previously agreed-upon COVAX principles.
  • Place COVID-19 vaccines into Schedule 1 of the Patent Act so that they are eligible for compulsory licensing under Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime.
  • Require any Canadian-based company that aims to produce COVID-19-related technology, including vaccines, with support from our government to make their manufacturing processes immediately available through the WHO COVID-19 technology access pool (C-TAP).

In Solidarity,

Waqqas Afif, MD, McGill University
Najma Ahmen, MD, McGill University
Saad Ahmed, MD, University of Toronto
Ahsan Alam, MD, McGill University
Nazmul Alam, MPH, DrPH, Asian University for Women
Akm Alamgir, MBBS, MPhil, PhD, Toronto
Mohamed Alarakhi, MD, CCFP, MSc, McMaster University
Karim F. Ali, MBBS, D(ABIM), Director, Division of Infectious Diseases, Niagara Health
Anju Anand, MD FRCPC
Apoorva Anand, BDS, MScPH, McGill University
Kavya Anchuri, MHS, University of Calgary
Archchun Ariyarajah, MSc, University of Toronto
Jasleen Arneja, MPH, University of Toronto
Akshaya Neil Arya, MD CCFP FCFP DLitt.
Amit Arya, MD, CCFP (PC), FCFP, University of Toronto
Saida Fathima Azam, MBBS, Ryerson University (ITMD Program)
Bilal Bagha, MD, University of British Columbia
Satwinder Bains, PhD, South Asian Studies Institute, University of the Fraser Valley
Ananya Tina Banerjee, PhD, McGill University
Devi K. Banerjee, MD, McGill University
Girish Bansal, R.Ph
Rishi Bansal, BArtsSc, McMaster University
Nadira Begum, MBBS, ITMD, Ryerson University
Dinesh Benjamin, MBBS McMaster University
Sophiya Benjamin, MBBS, FRCPC McMaster University
Isha Berry, MSc, University of Toronto
Bhooma Bhayana, MD, CCFP, Western University
Shafi Bhuiyan, MBBS, MPH, MBA, FRSPH, PhD, University of Toronto
Mohammad Biswas, MBBS, Ryerson University
Amanpreet Brar, MD, University of Toronto
Sadaf Bukhari, MD, University of Health sciences
Zain Chagla, MD MSc DTMH, McMaster University
Vikas P. Chaubey, MD, University of British Columbia
Mathew Cherian, MD, McGill University
Smita Dey Choudhury, Marketing Lead, Puja Saree (Montreal)
Amrita Daftary, PhD, York University
Kaberi Dasgupta, McGill University
Jaahnavi Dave, MSc, University of Ottawa
Pew Dey, McGill University
Zainab Doleeb, HBA, University of Toronto Medical School
Naheed Dosani, MSC, MD, CCFP(PC), University of Toronto
Mukesh Eswaran, PhD, University of British Columbia
Ritika Goel, MD MPH CCFP, University of Toronto
Vivek Govardhanam, MD, University of Toronto
Sumeet Gulati, PhD, University of British Columbia
Milan Gupta, MD, FRCPC, McMaster University
Nikhil Gupta, MD, Canmed Multispecialty & Weight Management Clinics
Parveen Gupta, MD
Samir Gupta, MD, MSc, FRCPC, University of Toronto
Hinna Hafeez, BSc, McGill University
Vinyas Harish, BCompH, University of Toronto
Swapnil Hiremath, MD, MPH, University of Ottawa
Antu Hossain, MPH, University of Toronto
Lavanya Huria, BA, McGill University
Hamidah Hussain, PhD, IRD Global
Nousin Hussain, MPH, University of Toronto
Chitra Jacob, MD, MHA, CHE Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre
Athish Jayakumar, BDS, MDS ITMD Ryerson University
Srinidhi Jayaram, MD, FRCSC, Guelph General Hospital, McMaster University
Jai Jayaraman, MD MBA, Humber River Hospital
Raji Jayaraman, PhD, University of Toronto
Rohit Kalvapalle
Faiz Ahmad Khan, MD, McGill University
Fariha Khan, MD, CCFP, Peel Region
Uzma Khan, MBBS, MSc, IRD Global
Joel Shyam Klinton, MBBS, McGill University
Siddharth Kogilwaimath, MD FRCPC, University of Saskatchewan
Mikashmi Kohi, PhD, McGill University
Arjun Law, MBBS, MD, DM, University of Toronto
Lorraine Lipscombe, MD, MSc, University of Toronto
Neha Malhotra, MPhil, University of Toronto
Nisha Malhotra, PhD, University of British Columbia
Anindita Marwah, MPH, University of Toronto
Anila Mathai, MD, CCFP, Midland ON
Shyla Mathai, MD, CCFP
Divya Mehan, CPA
Promila Mehan, DDS
Upender Mehan, MD, CCFP,  FCFP, McMaster University
Shyam Mehta, BSc, University of Toronto
Nitin Mohan, MD, MPH, Western University
Partha Mohanram, PhD, University of Toronto
Baijayanta Mukhopadhyay, MA MD CCFP DTM&H, McGill University
Srinivas Murthy, MD, MHSc, University of British Columbia
Sanjita Nag, MD CCFP, Toronto, Ontario
Harsh Naik, MPH, University of Toronto
Neil Naik, MB BCh BAO, CCFP, McMaster University
Madhukar Pai, MD, PhD, McGill University
Nitika Pant Pai, MD, PhD, McGill University
Sushmita Pamidi, MD, MSc, McGill University
Anita Palepu, MD, MPH, FRCPC, MACP, University of British Columbia
Anuja Pandey
Shekhar Pandey, MD, FRCPC, McMaster University
Tripti Pande, MScPH
Reena Pattani, MDCM MPH FRCPC, University of Toronto
Dilhan Perera, BSc, McGill University
Liyanage Shereen Perera, MD, Ministry of Health, Ontario
Ally Prebtani, MD, McMaster University
Gopika Punchhi, BS BA, Western University
Salman Qureshi, MD, FRCPC McGill University
Saleem Razack, MD, McGill University
Zalmay Sahak, MD
Divya Santhanam, BA, Western University
Abhishek Saxena, MPH, MBA, BPT, ITMD Ryerson University
Paulami Sen, BSc, McGill University
Devanshi Shah, BSc, University of Toronto
Prayrna Shah, MScA, SLP
Rishi Shah, BSc, York University
Saroo Sharda, MBChB MMEd FRCPC, McMaster University
Niren Shetty, MD, CCFP(PC)
Mehvish Siddiqui, BDS, MDS ITMD Ryerson University
Mandeep Singh, MBBS MD MSc FRCPC, University of Toronto
Surbhi Singh, MBBS, Ryerson University
Veena Sriram, PhD, MPH, University of British Columbia
Javeed Sukhera, MD, PhD, FRCPC, Western University
Tasmia Tazrin, MBBS, Ryerson University
Amandeep Thakur, MBBS, ITMD Ryerson University
Sai Surabi Thirugnanasampanthar, BHSc, MPH student, University of Toronto
Aashna Uppal, MScPH, McGill University
Bilkis Vissandjee, PhD, University of Montreal
Ruchi Vijh, BSc, University of Toronto
Sabina Vohra-Miller, MSc, South Asian Health Network
Mohammad Zubairi, MD, MEd, McMaster University

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