More than 140 world leaders, former leaders and economists, including the President of South Africa and Chair of the African Union, Cyril Ramaphosa, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, the President of the Republic of Senegal, Macky Sall, the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and economist Thomas Piketty have signed an open letter calling on all governments to unite behind a people’s vaccine against COVID-19. The call was made just days before health ministers meet virtually for the World Health Assembly next Monday.
The letter, which marks the most ambitious position yet set out by world leaders on a COVID-19 vaccine, demands that all vaccines, treatments and tests be patent-free, mass produced, distributed fairly and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.
Other signatories include the former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Gordon Brown, the former President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, the former United Nations Development Programme Administrator and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark.
They join notable economists, health advocates and others, from the Chair of the Elders and the former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, to the Nobel Laureate, Joseph Stiglitz, the Director of African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr John Nkengasong and Dainius Puras, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
“Billions of people today await a vaccine that is our best hope of ending this pandemic,” said Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa. “As the countries of Africa, we are resolute that the COVID-19 vaccine must be patent-free, rapidly made and distributed, and free for all. All the science must be shared between governments. Nobody should be pushed to the back of the vaccine queue because of where they live or what they earn.”
“We must work together to beat this virus. We must pool all the knowledge, experience and resources at our disposal for the good of all humanity,” said Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan. “No leader can rest easy until every individual in every nation is able to rapidly access a vaccine free of charge.”
The letter, coordinated by UNAIDS and Oxfam, warns that the world cannot afford monopolies and competition to stand in the way of the universal need to save lives.
“This is an unprecedented crisis and it requires an unprecedented response,” said former President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. “Learning the lessons from the fight against Ebola, governments must remove all the barriers to the development and rapid roll out of vaccines and treatments. No interest is more important than the universal need to save lives”
The leaders recognize that progress is being made and that many countries and international organizations are cooperating multilaterally on research and development, funding and access, including the welcome US$ 8 billion pledged on 4 May at the European Union’s international pledging marathon.
However, as many countries and companies are proceeding with unprecedented speed to develop an effective vaccine, the leaders are calling for concrete commitments to ensure that it is made affordable and available to all in the quickest possible time. These include:
- A mandatory worldwide pooling of patents and sharing of all COVID-19-related knowledge, data and technologies in order to ensure that any nation can produce or buy affordable doses of vaccines, treatments and tests.
- The rapid establishment of an equitable global manufacturing and distribution plan for all vaccines, treatments and tests that is fully funded by rich nations and which guarantees transparent “at true cost prices” and supplies in accordance with need rather than the ability to pay. This would include urgent action to massively increase manufacturing capacity to produce the vaccines in sufficient quantities and train and recruit millions of health workers to distribute them.
- A guarantee that COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests are provided free of charge to everyone, everywhere, with priority given to frontline workers, vulnerable people and poor countries with the least capacity to save lives.
“Faced with this crisis, we cannot carry on business as usual. The health of each of us depends on the health of all of us,” said Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand. “The COVID-19 vaccine must not belong to anyone and must be free for everyone. Diplomatic platitudes are not enough—we need legal guarantees, and we need them now.”
“Market solutions are not optimal to fight a pandemic,” said Nelson Barbosa, former Finance Minister of Brazil. “A public health care system, including free vaccination and treatment when that becomes available, is essential to deal with the problem, as shown by the Brazilian experience with compulsory licensing of antiretroviral drugs in the case of HIV.”
Uniting behind a people’s vaccine against COVID-19—open letter and full list of signatories can be found here