Statement on Covid vaccines: people must come before profit

In light of recent complications with the Covid-19 vaccines roll out, the ETUC believes that a higher degree of democratic control is needed over the process and that people must come before profit.

While unions fully support the principle of European coordination on vaccines as a means of avoiding vaccine nationalism, the process so far has been blighted by a lack of transparency in procurement and unexplained delays in production which have cost lives and livelihoods. 

The public dispute between the European Commission and one company showed just how little power democratic institutions have over the process compared to CEOs answerable only to shareholders.  The dangers of delegating responsibility for vaccines entirely to ‘big pharma’ have become clear.

The ETUC has itself asked the European Commission to take measures to avoid profit speculation and ensure the most vulnerable people are prioritised.

Vaccines have been developed thanks to billions of public investments, so vaccines must remain in public hands and the roll out should be under the control of democratic institutions.

That’s why the ETUC calls for:

  • Production and distribution based on the needs of people, rather than based on the need to keep demand higher than supply in order to maintain or raise the price of vaccines.
  • Vaccines to be given free of charge, starting from the most exposed groups, including frontline and essential workers and workers unable to physically distance.
  • A waiver from the copyright provisions in the WTO TRIPS agreement for Covid-19 vaccines, medicines and medical equipment. Patents and copyright should remain public to allow countries to freely develop the vaccines, including through Covax, and prevent a handful of big pharma companies creating a monopoly.

In addition, it is crucial that the cuts to public health and social protection systems which left member states completely unprepared for the pandemic and economic crisis must be reversed.

Public health systems across Europe exist because health is too important to be left to the market. This principle must be applied to the Covid-19 vaccines.