Lawyers eye action against Norway and others blocking Covid jab patent waiver

Rights lawyers and activists said Thursday they were mulling legal action against Norway and other countries blocking efforts at the World Trade Organization to lift patent protections on Covid vaccines.

Pictured is a person getting a Covid-19 jab.
Lawyers in several countries have launched legal action against governments blocking an IP waiver on Covid-19 vaccines. Pictured is a person getting a Covid-19 jab. Photo by Pierre-Phillipe Marcou / AFP

Human rights lawyers said they have alerted the governments of Norway, Germany and Canada of legal action if they fail to support efforts to increase global access to the vaccines and other medical tools needed to battle the pandemic.

A letter has also been sent to the British government warning that its failure to support the waiver violated international law, a statement said.

The moves came as trade ministers from around the world prepare to head to Geneva for a high-level WTO meeting next week where the proposed patent waivers will be discussed.

Since October 2020, India and South Africa have led calls at the WTO for the temporary removal of intellectual property protections for vaccines, treatments and diagnostics in the fight against Covid.

Proponents argue would this would boost production globally and help address the glaring inequity in access between rich and poor nations.

But a number of wealthy countries hosting large pharmaceutical companies have opposed the move, saying patents are not the main roadblocks to scaling up production.

READ ALSO: The current status of the Covid-19 epidemic in Norway

That stance has met harsh criticism from the network of rights groups behind Thursday’s legal threats announcement, including the Movement Law Lab, Oxfam, Amnesty and the Doctors Without Borders charity.

“Need to save lives”

“Throughout this pandemic, the UK government has put the interests of big pharmaceutical businesses ahead of the need to save lives around the world and defeat this pandemic,” Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now said in the statement.

“The epitome of this approach is that they have effectively blocked, repeatedly, the one measure the vast majority of the world has demanded- the waiver of intellectual property rules at the WTO.

“We hope our action today will send a clear message: they need to stop blocking action at the WTO.”

Lawyers in Norway, Germany and Canada had coordinated through the Movement Law Lab to file motions warning governments they could be violating international obligations to ensure the human rights to life, health, equality and benefit from scientific progress, the statement said.

Miriam Saage-Maass, of the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights organisation, told AFP about the claim she had helped file in Germany on behalf of a Ugandan citizen who could not access vaccines.

That claim also referred to obligations under the German constitution, which includes rights with “extraterritorial reach”, she said.

A response was required within three months, she said, acknowledging though that the filing was especially meant to put pressure on Germany- in the process of a change of government- to alter its stance during next week’s negotiations in Geneva.

The coordination on the filings took place among lawyers in wealthy countries in the global north, she said, because “we really felt that we needed to challenge our governments on entertaining the situation of vaccine apartheid.”

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Norway unlikely to offer fourth Covid vaccine dose to under 45s 

Those under 45 with no underlying conditions probably won’t be offered a fourth Covid vaccine dose this autumn, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) said Friday. 

Norway unlikely to offer fourth Covid vaccine dose to under 45s 

Health authorities are unlikely to offer under 45s a fourth Covid jab this autumn, broadcaster TV2 writes. 

“As it looks now, no more doses will be recommended for healthy people under the age of 45, but we are continuously assessing this based on the knowledge we have about the epidemic and the vaccine,” Preben Aavitsland, Chief Physician at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), told TV2. 

Newswire NTB were informed on Wednesday that health chiefs would make an official recommendation for the coming autumn and winter towards the end of summer. 

In a letter sent to municipalities earlier this month, the NIPH wrote that the most likely outcome was that local authorities would be asked to other a refresher dose to over 65s and those in vulnerable groups.

Aavitsland told TV2 that in the long run, it was possible the oldest would be offered an annual vaccine. However, this would depend on how long the pandemic endured and the spread of new variants, the chief physician, added.