More than 60 former world leaders and over 100 Nobel Prize winners Thursday called on US President Joe Biden to support a waiver of intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines.
A waiver would boost vaccine manufacturing and speed up the response to the pandemic in the US and around the world, they said in a joint letter to Biden.
The letter specifically asks Biden to support a proposal from South African and India at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive intellectual property rules related to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.
It calculates that at the current pace of vaccine production, the poorest nations will be left waiting until at least 2024 to achieve mass Covid-19 immunisation.
The signatories to the letter include former British prime minister Gordon Brown, former president of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos, former president of France François Hollande and Nobel laureates Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Professor Muhammad Yunus and Professor Francoise Barre-Sinoussi.
Gordon Brown said, "President Biden has said 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 US can provide and that hastens an end to the pandemic for the world."
The former British prime minister also said an urgent temporary waiver of intellectual property rules at the WTO would help them ramp up the global supply of vaccines together with a global multi-year burden-sharing plan to finance vaccines for the poorest countries.
Professor Yunus said, "Big pharmaceutical companies are setting the terms of the end of today's pandemic, and the cost of allowing senseless monopolies is only more death and more people being pushed into poverty."
"We together urge President Biden to stand on the right side of history and ensure a vaccine is a global common good, free of intellectual property protection."
François Hollande said the extreme inequality in access to vaccines around the world has created an unbearable political and moral situation.
"If the US supports the lifting of patents, Europe will have to take on its responsibilities. In the face of this devastating pandemic, world leaders must prioritise the public interest and international solidarity."
The leaders also called for the intellectual property waiver to be accompanied by the open sharing of vaccine know-how and technology, and by coordinated and strategic global investment in research, development, and manufacturing capacity, especially in developing countries.
The resulting vaccine inequality, the leaders warned, means that the US economy already risks losing $1.3 trillion in GDP this year, and if the virus is left to roam the world, the increased risk of new viral variants means even vaccinated people in the US could be unprotected once more.
The letter, which was coordinated by the People's Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of more than 50 organisations, warned that at the current global immunisation rate, it was likely that only 10% of people in the majority of poor countries will be vaccinated in the next year.
Françoise Barré-Sinoussi said, "We will not end today's global pandemic until rich countries – most especially the US – stop blocking the ability of countries around the world to mass-produce safe and effective vaccines."
Joseph Stiglitz said, "New mutations of the virus will continue to cost lives and upend our interconnected global economy until everyone, everywhere has access to a safe and effective vaccine. Intellectual property is the utmost artificial barrier to global vaccine supply."