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President Biden, support a people’s vaccine

Apr 17,2021 - Last updated at Apr 17,2021

By Gordon Brown, Helen Clarck, Richard J. Roberts and Joseph E. Stiglitz

Dear President Biden,

We, the undersigned former heads of state and government and Nobel laureates, are gravely concerned by the slow progress in scaling up global COVID-19 vaccine access and inoculation in low- and middle-income countries.

Over the past year, the world witnessed unprecedentedly rapid development of safe and effective vaccines, in large part thanks to US public investment. We all welcome that vaccine rollouts in the United States and many wealthier countries is bringing hope to their citizens.

Yet, for the majority of the world, that same hope is nowhere to be seen. New waves of suffering are now rising worldwide. The global economy cannot rebuild if it remains vulnerable to this virus.

But we are encouraged by reports that your administration is considering a temporary waiver of World Trade Organisation (WTO) intellectual property rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, as proposed by South Africa and India, and supported by more than 100 WTO member states and numerous health experts worldwide.

A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring that vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly. This can be achieved through the World Health Organisation COVID-19 Technology Access Pool, as your Chief Medical Adviser Anthony Fauci has advocated. This will save lives and advance us toward global herd immunity.

These actions would expand global manufacturing capacity, unhindered by industry monopolies that are driving the dire supply shortages and blocking vaccine access. Nine in ten people in most poor countries may well go without a vaccine this year. At this pace, many countries will be left waiting until at least 2024 to achieve mass COVID-19 immunisation, despite what the limited, while welcome, COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access initiative is able to offer.

The WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights waiver should be accompanied by coordinated global investment in research, development, and manufacturing capacity to tackle this pandemic and prepare us for future ones, as part of a more robust international health architecture. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that threats to public health are global, and that strategic government investment, action, cooperation and solidarity are vital. The market cannot adequately meet these challenges, and neither can narrow nationalism.

The full protection of intellectual property and monopolies will negatively affect efforts to vaccinate the world and be self-defeating for the US. Given artificial global supply shortages, the US economy already risks losing $1.3 trillion in GDP this year. Were the virus left to roam the world, people in the US, even if vaccinated, would continue to be exposed to new viral variants.

Mr President, our world learned painful lessons from unequal access to lifesaving treatments for diseases such as HIV. By supporting a TRIPS waiver, the US would provide an example of responsible leadership on global health at a time when it is needed most — and as it has done before on HIV, saving millions of lives. Your support in rallying allies and all countries to the cause will also be essential.

With your leadership, we can ensure that COVID-19 vaccine technology is shared with the world. Supporting the emergency waiver of COVID-19-related intellectual property rules will give all people a chance to live in a world free from the virus. We need a people’s vaccine.

Many of us have experienced the pressures, challenges and constraints of political office. But we believe this would be an unparalleled opportunity for the US to exercise solidarity, cooperation, and renewed leadership. We hope you will seize it — and inspire many more to do the same.

Please take the urgent action that only you can, and let this moment be remembered in history as the time we chose to put the collective right to safety for all ahead of the commercial interests of the few.

Let us now ensure an end to this pandemic for us all. As advocates for global and equitable vaccine access, we remain ready to support and add our voices to your efforts on this front.


Gordon Brown, former prime minister and chancellor of the exchequer of the United Kingdom, is United Nations special envoy for Global Education and chair of the International Commission on Financing global education Opportunity. He chairs the Advisory Board of the Catalyst Foundation. Helen Clark, a former prime minister of New Zealand (1999-2008), is chair of the Board of Women Political Leaders. Sir Richard J. Roberts is a Nobel prize laureate in medicine (1993). Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics and professor at Columbia University, is a former chief economist of the World Bank (1997-2000) and chair of the US president’s council of economic advisers, was lead author of the 1995 IPCC Climate Assessment, and co-chaired the international High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2021.


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