Covid: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urges Boris Johnson to drop vaccine intellectual property rights

Nicola Sturgeon has urged the Prime Minister to support temporarily waive intellectual property rights for coronavirus jabs in a move she said would boost the number given out in poorer countries.

The First Minister's letter to Boris Johnson said the move would better support developing countries in their battle against Covid-19, and would mean the UK joining more than 100 other countries in supporting the temporary rights suspension.

"The waiver would facilitate critical access to patents, technology and know-how to enable the expansion of vaccine manufacturing and distribution in developing countries. Vaccines have not been allocated evenly - at December 2021, only 6.2% of people in low income countries had received at least one dose," Ms Sturgeon said.

"By waiving patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines, countries will be able to make full use of the manufacturing capacity that is available globally.

The First Minister has urged Boris Johnson to waive intellectual property rights to the Covid-19 vaccine in a letter. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

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"Ensuring equitable access to vaccine supplies is essential to ensuring as many people as possible are protected, as quickly as possible. The exceptional circumstances presented by the Covid-19 pandemic call for all available measures to be used in order to end this crisis."

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In the letter, the First Minister said the vaccination programme across all four nations of the UK "has been a great success", but added it was "important to recognise Covid-19 is an unprecedented global crisis, leaving no part of the world unaffected".

And she added: "The emergence of the new Omicron variant is a stark reminder we need the world to be vaccinated, to protect lives globally but also at home.

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"A high global vaccination rate is our best protection against this pandemic. Creating the conditions for equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines is essential."

Liz Murray, the head of campaigns at Global Justice Now Scotland, has been part of the campaign to waive vaccine intellectual rights as part of the People's Vaccine Alliance, and on Thursday welcomed Ms Sturgeon's intervention.

"The British government has repeatedly blocked efforts to expand access to Covid-19 vaccines around the world through an emergency suspension of intellectual property rules, including vaccine patents. But today, Nicola Sturgeon has made clear that the UK does not do this in Scotland's name," she said.

"The UK government is becoming more and more isolated globally in its shameful refusal to back a just solution to global vaccine inequality. The First Minister's intervention will be welcomed by all those in the global south who have been calling for this life-saving measure for more than a year.

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"With pressure growing on Boris Johnson to support the suspension of patents on Covid-19 vaccines, it's time he finally put the health of people around the world before the profits of the pharmaceutical companies."

A UK Government spokesman said the country has been "a world leader in ensuring developing countries can access vaccines, through our investment in Oxford-AstraZeneca, early support to the Covax scheme and commitment to donate surplus vaccines".

"We are on track to meet our goal of donating 30 million doses by the end of this year, and more next year. We have donated 23 million doses already, of which 18.5 million have gone to Covax to distribute to developing countries," the spokesman added.

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