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President Higgins writes to fellow European Presidents to highlight need for universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines

Date: Mon 3rd Jan, 2022 | 11:30

President Michael D. Higgins has written to his fellow Presidents in the Arraiolos Group of 15 non-executive European Presidents highlighting his concerns as to ensuring universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines throughout the world. 

In his letter, which was issued on 24th December, the President states:

“While there are many different challenges facing us all in Europe, it remains my strong belief that we must join together, recognising our privileged position, and in a new and deeply significant way ensure a delivery of a global, equitable and sustainable response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is, I believe, a moral issue of the first order for us collectively both as Europeans and as global citizens, and it comes at a time when we are discussing the very future of Europe itself. For this reason, I believe that Europe, not only in a practical way but also out of a sense of moral duty, should respond to the COVID-19 Technology Pool (C-TAP) launched by the WHO last year, by indicating a willingness, indeed a commitment, to overcome any obstacles that remain to participation in the fullest sense.”

President Higgins’ letter follows the Arraiolos Group’s meeting in Rome in September where the 15 Presidents recognised that universal and equitable access to vaccines was a critical component in the fight against the pandemic.  It is widely recognised that the longer it takes to achieve global vaccination thresholds, the more lives will be lost and the greater the cumulative damage to societies and economies worldwide.

In his letter, President Higgins draws attention to the extremely low vaccination rates in the global south, and in Africa in particular, and notes compelling support for a TRIPS waiver among the public and its representatives, including international civil society and recent statements of support from the European Parliament and many world leaders.

The President adds:

“Maximizing global production means sharing access to the vaccine technology, the know-how and intellectual property. There is a mechanism in place that can enable this sharing. The COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP) launched by the WHO in April 2020 is meant to act as a one-stop-shop for pooling all data, know-how, biological material and intellectual property and then license production and technology transfer to other potential producers.

However, I fully recognise that support for a TRIPS waiver and the mechanism for sharing access to vaccine technology, know-how and intellectual property as launched by the WHO, of themselves will not be enough. They will need to be supplemented by a more comprehensive strategy that encompasses the ratchetting up of production capability and capacity, and the development of proper channels of distribution.”

Acknowledging the impact of such a waiver in combating the HIV pandemic in developing countries such as in Africa and India, and the countless lives saved as a result, the President suggests to his fellow Presidents that a temporary waiver of certain TRIPS obligations is an opportunity for Europe to give a lead and enhance its global standing and reputation.

President Higgins will be meeting with Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organisation’s Health Emergencies Programme on Wednesday at Áras an Uachtaráin. At the meeting, they will discuss the importance of equitable vaccine access and the President will also present Dr Ryan with a Presidential Distinguished Service Award, which recognises the contribution of members of the Irish diaspora.