The global call for a “people’s vaccine” has come up again, with more than 170 nobel laureates and former heads of State urging US President Joe Biden to support a waiver of intellectual property on Covid-19 vaccines to help end the pandemic.

“A WTO waiver is vital to end this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring vaccine know-how and technology,” said an open letter signed by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, nobel laureates Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Muhammad Yunus and Professor Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, among others.

The WTO reference was to the proposal by India and South Africa to waive IP temporarily on Covid-19 products, including vaccines, diagnostics and medicines.

‘Painful lessons’

“We are encouraged by news that your Administration is considering a temporary waiver of WTO intellectual property rules during the pandemic, as proposed by South Africa and India, and supported by more than 100 WTO member states and numerous health experts worldwide,” the letter said.

“Mr. President, our world learnt painful lessons from unequal access to lifesaving treatments for diseases such as HIV. By supporting a TRIPS waiver, the US will provide an example of responsible leadership at a time when it is needed most on global health — as it has done so before on HIV, saving millions of lives,” they said.

Expressing grave concern over the slow progress in scaling-up the Covid-19 vaccine access and inoculation in low- and middle-income countries, they said, waiving IP would “expand global manufacturing capacity, unhindered by industry monopolies that are blocking vaccine access.”

‘Help poor nations’

Further, the letter said, “9 in 10 people in most poor countries may well go without a vaccine this year.

At this pace, many nations will be left waiting until at least 2024 to achieve mass Covid-19 immunisation, despite what the limited, while welcome, COVAX initiative is able to offer.”

Given the artificial global supply shortages, the letter said, “the US economy already risks losing $1.3 trillion in GDP this year. Were the virus left to roam the world, and even if vaccinated, people in the US would continue to be exposed to new viral variants.”

Supporting the emergency waiver of Covid-19 related intellectual property rules “Will give people around the globe a chance to wake up to a world free from the virus,” they said.