Gordon Brown has joined more than 170 other former heads of state and government and Nobel laureates in signing an open letter calling on US President Joe Biden to support a waiver of intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines.
The former Labour Prime Minister, alongside prominent figures such as former President of France François Hollande and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has backed efforts to pursue a “people’s vaccine” to end the pandemic.
The People’s Vaccine Alliance letter signatories have said they are “gravely concerned by the very slow progress in scaling up global Covid-19 vaccine access and inoculation in low- and middle-income countries” and believe more must be done.
They believe that a temporary waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules is a “vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic”, combined with vaccine know-how and technology being “shared openly”.
Such a waiver during Covid would allow manufacturers and developing countries to directly access and share technologies, making their own copies of vaccines without causing trade sanctions or international disputes.
Warning that many countries will be forced to wait until at least 2024 to achieve mass Covid immunisation, the letter argues that the waiver is the key to achieving “global herd immunity” – and would also benefit the US economy.
“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. We need a people’s vaccine,” the open letter reads.
“Many of us know, first-hand, the reality of political office and the pressures, challenges and constraints of leadership. However, we believe this would be an unparalleled opportunity for the U.S. to exercise solidarity, cooperation and renewed leadership, one we hope will inspire many more to do the same.”
CNBC news has reported that Joe Biden’s White House is considering whether to suspend intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, following pressure from developing nations and some US lawmakers.
The Trump administration opposed the move at the WTO and drug companies in the US claim that a waiver would undermine the response to the coronavirus pandemic and be counterproductive for vaccines.
Commenting on the demand, Brown said: “President Biden has said that 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.”
“An urgent temporary waiver of intellectual property rules at the WTO would help us ramp up global supply of vaccines together with a global multi-year burden sharing plan to finance vaccines for the poorest countries. This would be in the strategic interests of the US and of every country on the planet.”
29 Labour MPs recently signed an ‘early day motion’ in parliament backing a waiver allowing WTO members to quickly overcome intellectual property barriers to access vaccines and treatments during the pandemic.
The EDM also supported by the Lib Dems and Green Party expressed concern that the UK government has not endorsed the move and urged ministers to reconsider their position ahead of key WTO meetings.
The UK government has instead highlighted its commitment to scaling up manufacturing to meet global needs, its support for voluntary licensing and partnership models, plus its plans to share the majority of future surplus doses with Covax.
Covax, the initiative aiming to ensure there is equitable global access to Covid vaccines, has recently hit shortages as initial supplies have started to run low. Some of the poorest countries have been told to expect delays.