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Dhaka Tribune

Call for vaccine equity so Covid mistakes are not repeated

More than 130 leaders are urging western countries in particular to do more to ensure vaccines can be distributed globally

Update : 11 Mar 2023, 11:38 AM

A group of world leaders and activists have called for urgent action to vaccinate low and middle-income countries to bring an end to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The letter from The People's Vaccine NGO alliance calls for large-scale investments to develop scientific innovation and manufacturing capacity in the global south. This will ensure that vaccines and treatments can be quickly developed and rolled out in all regions, also in future pandemics, they say.

This follows an unprecedented bid during the Covid pandemic, spearheaded by India, to waive the patents for Covid vaccines and enable cheaper production in the global south. To the surprise of many observers, the US signalled a willingness, but European countries and in no small part Germany torpedoed the idea.

The former world leaders, Nobel laureates, scientists, economists, humanitarians, faith leaders, business leaders, trade unionists, and celebrities are urging world leaders to unite behind a People's vaccine based on equity and solidarity.

They argue that the Covid-19 vaccines should be accessible to everyone, everywhere and free from patents and profiteering.

What are the contents of the open letter?

The letter criticizes the massive inequality witnessed during the response to the global pandemic.

The pandemic has so far claimed 7 million lives worldwide although the true toll is believed to be higher.

"Decisions made now will determine how the world prepares for and responds to future global crises," the letter reads. "World leaders must reflect on mistakes made in responding to the Covid-19 pandemic so that they are never repeated."

With the end of the pandemic in sight, "the world is at a critical juncture," they wrote.

"We must recapture the spirit of solidarity to end the suffering and create a better future. That starts now with ending callous pharmaceutical monopolies on Covid-19 vaccines, so Africa and the world can tackle this crisis and the next," former Malawian president Joyce Banda, one of several senior African politicians to sign the letter, said.

The letter was published on the second anniversary of the World Health Organization's (WHO) declaration of Covid-19 as a global pandemic.

The letter further condemns world leaders' approach as being "immoral, entirely self-defeating and also an ethical, economic and epidemiological failure.”

The alliance warns that leaving billions of people unvaccinated increases the risk of more dangerous variants of Covid-19.

First World under heavy criticism

According to Ban Ki-Moon, signatory and former secretary general of the United Nations, "rich country leaders are protecting pharmaceutical monopolies on Covid-19 vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics over the health of billions of people."

The leaders criticize 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.”

The letter insists that "these are the people's vaccines, the people's tests and the people's treatments.”

Failure to meet global vaccination targets ha been blamed on "self-defeating nationalism, pharmaceutical monopolies and inequality,” according to the leaders.

South Africa and India proposed an intellectual property waiver during the World Trade Organization (WTO) in October 2020 and are being supported by more than 100 countries including the US.

Despite the rallying call to waive intellectual property rights of the vaccines, strong European opposition led by the UK and Germany has prevented the WTO from reaching a consensus.

According to Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS: "The heartbreaking tragedy of our era is that the remarkable innovations of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments have been withheld from so many... Please support developing countries to vaccinate everyone everywhere. A people's vaccine."

Other signatories to the open letter include Tanzanian President HE Samia Suluhu Hassan, Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Charlize Theron, and Paul Polman, the former CEO of Unilever, among others.

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