I wish to start with very sombre figures.
Our fellow human beings are behind the figures. As of today, Covid-19 has claimed 5.5 million people worldwide. It is an incredible statistic. Nearer to home, 150,000 people in Britain have died of Covid-19. On our island, 10,000 people have died, thus far, as a result of the pandemic. It has taken a terrible toll on those people, their families and society as a whole. There is hope; without it there will be despair. The pandemic continues to separate us in some ways, but also unites us and brings us together in other good ways.
This virus is universal and indiscriminate. Through science, we have found a vaccine that at least stops the ravages of this terrible disease and saves lives but, at the same time, we have a contradiction. While we have a vaccine, many people in this world cannot get access to it. Almost 40% of the world's population have not got a single vaccine. Even health workers in the developing world have not got access to this vaccine. It is quite extraordinary that in the circumstance of a world emergency countries cannot get access to vaccines because pharmaceutical companies have control over supply and intellectual property rights. Many people will ask if this is not the time to waive intellectual property rights, when is it?
As I said, the statistics are extraordinary. Even this week, Oxfam International stated: "Vaccines were meant to end ... [the] pandemic, yet rich ... [countries] allowed pharma billionaires...to cut off the supply to billions of people". Many people, through NGOs, religious organisations and civic organisations, are calling for a waiver to end the embargo on intellectual property rights to allow countries to make these vaccines. The argument is that countries in the developing world cannot make these vaccines, but they have the infrastructure in India and Africa. Factories where these vaccines can be mass produced are ready to go, but big pharma is not allowing that to happen and is allowing people to get the disease and die.
I do not know anybody who can stand over that. I do not think anybody in this Chamber could stand over it with a serious face, but that is the reality. Last December, a motion was passed in the Seanad calling on the Government to publicly call on the European Commission to support the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, TRIPS, waiver. The European Commission has failed to do so, even though two countries who are members of it, Italy and Portugal, have stated that they support the TRIPS waiver. I call on the Minister of State to use his influence, as a member of the Government and a Deputy who is part of the Cabinet and so forth, to push for a TRIPS waiver via the European Commission so people can get access to this vaccine.