Protest at Parliament ahead of discussions on lifting of Covid-19 vaccine patents
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Protest at Parliament ahead of discussions on lifting of Covid-19 vaccine patents

Credit: Geneeskunde Voor Het Volk/ Gille Feyaerts

Several protestors gathered outside the Federal Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday morning to demand the lifting of patents on Covid-19 vaccines, ahead of a Health Commission meeting during which two resolutions on this subject would be discussed.

Around 40 demonstrators, including several people dressed up in large inflatable balloons with the words “Get the world out of its bubble” written on them, argued that patents on the vaccines should be temporarily lifted to speed up the global vaccination campaign against the coronavirus.

“We will continue to campaign until the patents are lifted. We have science, democracy and the support of the people behind us, big pharma only looks at their profits,” said Janneke Ronse of Geneeskunde Voor Het Volk (Medicine for the People).

The group argued that this would allow countries like India, where the Delta variant is proliferating, to quickly mass-produce vaccines themselves.

The protest took place ahead of the vote on the proposal put forward by both the French- and Flemish-speaking socialist parties to lift the patents on the vaccines.

Several MPs who had worked on the resolutions, including André Flahaut (PS), Sofie Merckx (PVDA) and Séverine de Lavaleye (Ecolo) were present at the demonstration to explain why they are in favour of lifting patents, before going to the Health Committee.

The demonstrators were a part of the European citizens’ initiative ‘No profit on pandemic’, a coalition of mutualities, civil society organisations and political groups, which has already collected 205,000 signatures, including 30,000 in Belgium.

Ronse added that the group will also continue to lobby for this cause in Europe, “because as a society we cannot accept that Covid-19 will not be stopped because profit is more important than health.”

Wider discussion

When asked about the subject in parliament in May, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that the government would be willing to suspend the patents of coronavirus vaccines, saying these are “exceptional circumstances”.

“We are open to considering the status of the coronavirus vaccine patents. I think it is logical that we sit around the table with the sector,” he said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also argued that more needs to be done to make the global vaccine rollout a fair race, and has urged countries to share technology and suspend patents on vaccines.

However, the subject has become a point of contention between the European Commission and Parliament, as the latter called for the temporary lifting of intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines to “improve global access to the vaccine and to address global production constraints and supply shortages.”

The Commission, however, has argued for compulsory licences, which would allow public authorities to take away a patent holder’s choice to refuse to license his or her invention in certain cases – and public health is one of them.

This imposition would then be accompanied by financial compensation for the patent holder, which Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said would be “a legitimate tool to scale up production.”