Former leaders urge US to waive vaccine intellectual property rules

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Some 170 former country leaders and Nobel prize laureates have called on the US to waive intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines to give poorer countries faster access to inoculations.

In an open letter to President Joe Biden published late Wednesday, the group said it was “gravely concerned by the very slow progress” in scaling up global vaccine access and inoculation in low- and middle-income countries.

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While vaccination rollout in the United States and many wealthier countries was bringing hope to their citizens, “for the majority of the world that same hope is yet to be seen”, said the signatories who include Nobel winners Muhammad Yunus, Joseph Stiglitz and Mohamed ElBaradei and former world leaders such as Mikhail Gorbachev, Francois Hollande and Gordon Brown.

The group said it was “encouraged” that the Biden administration was considering a temporary waiver of World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, as proposed by South Africa and India.

Such a waiver would be “a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic” as it would expand global manufacturing capacity, “unhindered by industry monopolies that are driving the dire supply shortages blocking vaccine access”.

Full protection of intellectual property and monopolies would negatively impact efforts to vaccinate the world and be self-defeating for the US, the group said in the letter coordinated by the People’s Vaccine Alliance which groups organizations and activists campaigning for an end to property rights and patents for vaccines.

“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,” they said.

The letter comes days after the World Health Organization condemned the scarcity of Covid doses available for poorer nations.

“There remains a shocking imbalance in the global distribution of vaccines,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.

By then, more than 732 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered in at least 195 territories around the world, according to an AFP count.

Some 49 percent of the doses were injected in high-income countries accounting for 16 percent of the global population.

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