- 05 Jan 22
President Higgins met with Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organisation’s Health Emergencies Programme today at Áras an Uachtaráin to discuss the importance of equitable vaccine access.
Earlier this week, President Michael D. Higgins wrote to his fellow European Presidents highlighting his concerns as to ensuring universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines throughout the world.
President Higgins has since met with Dr Mike Ryan to discuss global vaccine access today - also presenting the executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme with a Presidential Distinguished Service Award, which recognises the contribution of members of the Irish diaspora.
Dr Ryan had been due to receive the award in the Áras on December 2nd, 2021 but he was unable to attend on that occasion due to his ongoing work with the World Health Organisation.
— President of Ireland (@PresidentIRL) January 5, 2022
At their meeting, Dr Ryan briefed President Higgins on the WHO’s work to date to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, including the challenges posed by the Omicron outbreak, and also spoke about the importance of equitable vaccine access with the President. He thanked the President for offering his support towards this worthy cause.
The press briefing of 29th December by WHO Director Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and leading members of his team, including Dr Ryan, was also discussed by the pair. Recent figures are showing extremely low vaccination rates in the global south, and in Africa in particular, with only 6% of people living in Africa fully vaccinated and 27% of healthcare workers across Africa fully vaccinated.
Some practical suggestions of where Ireland could make an immediate contribution included offering support for the Technology Transfer Hub in South Africa through accelerating training and biomanufacturing.
In his recent letter to his fellow Presidents in the Arraiolos Group of 15 non-executive European Presidents, Michael D. Higgins asserted his belief that this is a moral issue of the first order for us collectively.
"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 and a commitment to overcome any obstacles that remain to participation in the fullest sense," the President re-stated today.
"If we could succeed in working together to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic, it will of course provide important models for the international cooperation which will be required to overcome the other great challenges facing the world, including in ecology, climate and the environment," he concluded.
President Higgins' letter was issued on 24th December, with the full text below:
“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.
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 ratcheting 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."