More than 130 former world leaders, Nobel laureates, leading scientists, economists, humanitarians, faith leaders, business leaders, trade unionists, and celebrities are calling for urgent action to vaccinate low and middle-income countries and bring an end to the Covid-19 pandemic, in a letter coordinated by the People’s Vaccine Alliance.
The authoritative voices are uniting on the second anniversary of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) declaration that the COVID-19 outbreak had become a pandemic, They urge world leaders “to do what is necessary to end this crisis” and unite behind a People’s Vaccine, based on the principles of equity and solidarity; accessible to everyone, everywhere; and free from patents and profiteering.
They warn that “despite what some leaders in wealthy countries would like us to believe, the pandemic is not over”. But an end to Covid-19 is “within our grasp”, they say, if we give “everyone, everywhere access to safe and effective vaccines and other life-saving COVID-19 technologies”.
The letter’s signatories include former leaders of more than 40 countries; Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex Charlize Theron, United Nations Messenger of Peace and Founder of the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project; EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren; and some of the world’s most senior female politicians, Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, Graça Machel, former First Lady of South Africa and Mozambique and founder of the Graça Machel Trust, and Vaira Vike-Freiberga, first female President of Latvia and Eastern Europe and Co-Chair Nizami Ganjavi International Center.
Two previous Presidents of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma and Victor Yuschenko, and former First Lady Kateryna Yushchenko have joined the plea for vaccine equity amid the conflict in their country.
They join former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and the former leaders of institutions including the World Bank, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), alongside the current leaders of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.
Condemning the approach of world leaders so far as “immoral, entirely self-defeating and also an ethical, economic and epidemiological failure”, they warn that leaving billions of people unvaccinated risks leading to dangerous new variants COVID-19.
Failure to vaccinate the world so far is down to “self-defeating nationalism, pharmaceutical monopolies and inequality”, the leaders say, which have led to the “avoidable” milestones of two years and an estimated twenty million deaths from COVID-19.
They criticise the European Union, the United Kingdom, Germany and Switzerland for continuing “to block the lifting of intellectual property rules which would enable the redistribution and scale-up of COVID-19 vaccine, test and treatment manufacturing in the global south”.
India and South Africa first proposed an intellectual property waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO) in October 2020, which is supported by more than 100 countries. The United States announced its support for a waiver in May 2021, but British and European opposition led by the UK and Germany has prevented the WTO from reaching a consensus.
It comes as People’s Vaccine activists hold die-ins and rallies on nearly every continent, urging world leaders to end Big Pharma’s monopoly grip on COVID vaccines, tests and treatments needed to save lives and prevent the next variant.
Joyce Banda, former President of Malawi, said:
“Let us be clear: this pandemic is far from over in Africa and across the world. We are seeing, with each day, thousands of avoidable deaths. We are seeing women and girls being disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, through lost educational opportunities, domestic violence, and economic hardship. We must recapture the spirit of solidarity to end the suffering and create a better future. That starts now with ending these callous pharmaceutical monopolies on Covid-19 vaccines, so Africa and the world can tackle this crisis and the next.”
Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, said:
“Rich country leaders are protecting pharmaceutical monopolies on COVID-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics over the health and lives of billions of people. And we can only imagine how damaging a new profoundly lethal variant could be for everyone on the planet. That is why this is a historic test of multilateralism. It truly affects us all. And, if world leaders can’t rise to the challenge of vaccine equity, they diminish hope that they will rise to the existential challenge of tackling the climate crisis.”
Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS, said:
“The heartbreaking tragedy of our era is that the remarkable innovations of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments have been withheld from so many. Just as people today remember the terrible injustice with antiretrovirals for HIV, when 12 million lives, most of them in Africa, were needlessly lost while lifesaving medicines remained out of reach for the global South, our children will not forgive those who denied billions of people the chance of life-saving COVID-19 vaccines. On the second anniversary of this pandemic, we make our plea to rich nations above all. Please, insist the vaccine recipes are shared. Please support developing countries to vaccinate everyone, everywhere. A people’s vaccine.”
Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, said:
“As a humanitarian crisis unfolds in Europe and the COVID tragedy continues to grip much of the world, global solidarity is more important than ever, and particularly with vulnerable nations. This is a moment to build trust, to forge needed partnerships for humanity between governments, business and civil society, and to attack the world’s biggest challenges. Ending vaccine apartheid is critical. Intellectual property rules must be lifted to boost manufacturing of vaccines and lifesaving patents and technology should be immediately shared”
A list of and contact details for protests, die-ins, and media stunts is available here https://peoplesvaccine.org/take-action/end-covid-monopolies/
The letter puts five demands to world leaders:
1. Urgently agree and implement a global roadmap to deliver the WHO goal of fully vaccinating 70% of people by mid-2022, and beyond this ensure sustained, timely and equitable access worldwide to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, tests and other medical technologies, including next generations effective and safe COVID-19 vaccines and medical technologies.
2. Maximise the production of safe and effective vaccines and other COVID-19 products by suspending relevant intellectual property rules and ensuring the mandatory pooling of all COVID-19 related knowledge, data and technologies so that any nation can produce or buy sufficient and affordable doses of vaccines, treatments and tests.
3. Invest public funding now in a rapid and massive increase in vaccine manufacturing as well as research and development (R&D) capacity to build a global distributed network capable of and governed to deliver affordable vaccines as global public goods to all nations.
4. Make COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests available to governments and institutions at a price as close to the true cost as possible, and provided free of charge to everyone, everywhere, and allocated according to need.
5. Scale-up sustainable investment in public health systems to ensure that low- and middle-income country governments have adequate resources to get shots into arms and save lives. These investments will pay dividends in the global economy and help restore economic and development gains which the global COVID-19 pandemic has partially reversed.