Make vaccine more readily available

Former world leaders urge Biden

Diplomatic Correspondent

16 April, 2021 12:00 AM printer

More than 170 former world leaders and Nobel laureates have called on United States President Joe Biden to make Covid-19 vaccines more readily available by waiving US intellectual property rules.

In an open letter shared by Yunus Centre in Bangladesh on Thursday, the signatories said it was "gravely concerned by the very slow progress" in scaling up global vaccine access and inoculation in low- and middle-income countries.

A waiver of intellectual property rules would allow for a scale up in manufacturing in the U.S. and around the world, overcoming artificial supply constraints, the world leaders added.

The letter, which was coordinated by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of more than 50 organizations including Club de Madrid, Yunus Centre and UNAIDS, warned that at the current global immunization rate, it was likely that only 10 percent of people in the majority of poor countries will be vaccinated in the next year.

The former world leaders and Nobel Laureates encourage President Biden to take the urgent action only he can and “let this moment be remembered in history as the time we chose to put the collective right to safety for all ahead of the commercial monopolies of the few.”

The letter specifically asks President Biden to support a proposal from the South African and Indian governments at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive intellectual property rules related to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. At the current pace of vaccine production, most poor nations will be left waiting until at least 2024 to achieve mass COVID-19 immunization.

While vaccination rollout in the United States and many wealthier countries was bringing hope to their citizens, "for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen", said the signatories who include Nobel winners Muhammad Yunus, Joseph Stiglitz and Mohamed ElBaradei and former world leaders such as Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev, President of France Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The group said it was "encouraged" that the Biden administration was considering a temporary waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, as proposed by South Africa and India. 

Such a waiver would be "a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic" as it would expand global manufacturing capacity, "unhindered by industry monopolies that are driving the dire supply shortages blocking vaccine access".

Full protection of intellectual property and monopolies would negatively impact efforts to vaccinate the world and be self-defeating for the US, the group said in the letter coordinated by the People's Vaccine Alliance which groups organisations and activists campaigning for an end to property rights and patents for vaccines.

"Were the virus left to roam the world, and even if vaccinated, people in the U.S. would continue to be exposed to new viral variants," they said.

The letter comes days after the World Health Organization condemned the scarcity of Covid doses available for poorer nations. "There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.

Gordon Brown said: "President Biden has said that no one is safe until everyone is safe, and now with the G7 ahead there is an unparalleled opportunity to provide the leadership that only the U.S. can provide and that hastens an end to the pandemic for the world.”

“An urgent temporary waiver of intellectual property rules at the World Trade Organization would help us ramp up global supply of vaccines together with a global multi-year burden sharing plan to finance vaccines for the poorest countries”. “This would be in the strategic interests of the U.S., and of every country on the planet".