A group of more than 170 former world leaders and Nobel laureates has called on US President, Joe Biden, to waive US intellectual property rules in order to make COVID-19 vaccines more readily available to the rest of the world.
In an open letter shared by Oxfam, the signatories also urged Biden to support a proposal spearheaded by South Africa and India, demanding for the World Trade Organization (WTO) to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents.
The measure, the group says, would allow vaccine manufacturing to ramp up globally as public health experts have raised concerns that low-income countries are left behind without access to critical coronavirus jabs.
“At the current rate, the world’s poorest nations will have to wait until at least 2024 to reach mass immunization. We believe this would be an unparalleled opportunity for the US to exercise solidarity, cooperation and renewed leadership.”
The signatories of the letter include former UK Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, ex-French President, François Hollande and Muhammad Yunus, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
In an Oxfam statement accompanying the group’s open letter, Nobel laureate in medicine,;Françoise Barré-Sinoussi suggested that waiving the patent is the only way to end the pandemic.
“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.”
Hollande, the former French president, was also hopeful that “the Biden administration is considering waiving patents”.
“That the Biden administration is considering waiving barriers related to intellectual property rules offers hope for the international community. If the United States supports the lifting of patents, Europe will have to take its responsibilities.”
Opposition to patent waiving
A vaccine patent waiver would allow WTO members to suspend the intellectual property rights;currently enjoyed by the likes of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson, enabling developing countries to produce vaccines and treatments;without fear of reprisal.
Last year, South Africa and India submitted a proposal to the WTO;seeking such a suspension “until widespread vaccination is in place globally.”
However, resistance to the proposal has been fierce. In March, the US, UK, and the European Union all voted to block such a waiver from being granted. They argued that they need to preserve an economic incentive for the development of new medical technologies.
Biden, who has made tackling the pandemic a central goal of his presidency, has said the US would share any surplus of vaccines with other countries;once all US citizens are vaccinated.
The US Chamber of Commerce also called such proposals “misguided” and a “distraction” from efforts already underway to share vaccines with the developing world. America has already committed $4bn to the COVAX programme, which aims to help lower-income countries acquire vaccines.
The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations likewise argued that a waiving of IP protections would be “counterproductive,” undermine confidence in a for-profit system that helped develop several highly effective vaccines. world leaders