Vaccine nationalism and crisis profiteering: Unions take action

published 12 March 2021 updated 9 June 2021

“Just 10 countries, some of the richest in the world, have administered 75% of vaccinations. Meanwhile, around 130 countries that account for 2.5 billion people have not administered a single dose. This is not an issue on which we can afford to be passive. The only solution to a global pandemic is global solidarity,” stated David Edwards, Education International General Secretary, opening EI’s webinar on vaccine equity.

The event brought together over one hundred union leaders and representatives from around the world, as well as experts from the World Health Organization and UNESCO to discuss the status of the global COVID-19 vaccine rollout and its implications for teachers and education support personnel. Participants flagged the dire consequences of vaccine nationalism and profit-driven approaches to the medical crisis and emphasised the role of education unions in driving action for equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for all.

What not to do in a pandemic: Vaccine nationalism and crisis profiteering

With a few high-income countries taking over most of the global vaccine supply available so far, increasing the production of vaccines around the world is critical to ensuring equitable access. To this end, South Africa and India have put forward a proposal at the World Trade Organization (referred to as the ‘TRIPS waiver proposal’) to temporarily lift intellectual property barriers on COVID-19 vaccines and medical products and make it possible to boost their manufacturing across the world. Around two thirds of World Trade Organization members support the TRIPS waiver proposal, but many of the richest and most influential countries have sided with big pharma and are protecting profits amid a global pandemic.

Addressing vaccine nationalism and intellectual property protectionism, Annie Sparrow, Advisor to the World Health Organization Director General, stressed that “no one country can achieve COVID-19 immunity. The more the virus replicates, wherever it is, it will keep putting us all in danger. We must do all we can to increase global vaccine production. We must put people over profits.”

Education International and its member organisations fully support the TRIPS waiver proposal and will continue to push, at both national and international levels, for equitable access to lifesaving vaccines and medical products. Click here for more information on the TRIPS waiver proposal.

Vaccinating educators: Ensuring a safe and permanent return to onsite education

Webinar participants also addressed the impact of the pandemic on the education sector. David Edwards emphasised that “vaccine nationalism risks prolonging the crisis, the school closures, the educational disruption for months and even years to come. In that time, we risk losing even more educators to the pandemic. We risk losing even more students to child labour, early marriage, and a bleak future.” A safe and permanent return to onsite education around the world requires equitable access to vaccines everywhere.

In December 2020, on the 60th anniversary of the Convention that promotes the universal right to education, UNESCO and Education International launched a joint call for educators to be one of the priority groups in the global vaccine rollout. Addressing webinar participants, UNESCO’s Carlos Vargas Tamez presented an initial mapping of the status of teachers and education support personnel in national vaccination strategies. Acknowledging the important role played by education unions in ensuring they are prioritised, he encouraged EI affiliates to continue fighting for the health and safety of educators, an essential condition for a swift and safe return to onsite education everywhere.

Unity of purpose: Unions work together to protect school communities everywhere

Education unions are mobilising for vaccine equity and a safe return to onsite education all around the world. Working together at both national and international levels, unions are advocating against vaccine nationalism and are putting pressure on their governments to prioritise lives, not commercial interests. In addition, unions are also working in their countries and communities to fight against fake news around vaccines and maximise uptake as soon as supplies are secured.