Three years after the start of the Covid pandemic, nearly 200 prominent world figures called on Saturday for the vaccine inequity seen during the crisis to be consigned to the dustbin of history at a conference in Geneva.
In an open letter, current and former heads of state pleaded with world leaders to make a “never again” pledge.
Publication of this work coincides with the third anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global pandemic due to the Covid-19 crisis.
The letter was organized by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of non-governmental organizations, and was signed by Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta, the president of Timor-Leste and Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1996, and the leaders of more than 40 other countries.
A wide variety of current and former heads of UN agencies signed on, in addition to a number of other Nobel laureates, religious leaders, and former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon.
They wrote, “the world is at a critical juncture” because the end of the pandemic is finally in sight.
The world’s readiness and response to future global health crises will be determined by the choices we make today. To ensure that the mistakes made during the response to the Covid-19 pandemic are never repeated, it is imperative that world leaders examine their actions.
While the official death toll from the pandemic is close to seven million, the true toll is believed to be much higher, and this letter criticized the glaring inequity that characterized the response to the pandemic.
Although several highly effective vaccines against Covid-19 were developed in record time, the wealthy nations quickly purchased the vast majority of the initial doses, leaving many vulnerable people in poorer nations waiting in vain for vaccinations.
U.N. statistics show that, even now, fewer than a third of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of a recommended vaccine, in contrast to seventy-five percent of people in high-income countries.
The letter explains that decades of publicly funded research have gone into developing and testing vaccines and treatments for Covid-19.
“Governments have poured taxpayer money by the billions into research, development, and advance orders, reducing the risks for pharmaceutical companies,” it said.
Insisting that “these are the people’s vaccines, the people’s tests, and the people’s treatments,” it argued that such measures belonged to the general public.
However, “instead of rolling out vaccines, tests, and treatments based on need, pharmaceutical companies maximized their profits by selling doses first to the richest countries with the deepest pockets,” it said.
The letter referred to a study published in the scientific journal Nature in 2017 that concluded that “one preventable death every 24 seconds” in 2021 could have been avoided if the jabs had been administered uniformly. This amounted to an estimated 1.3 million fewer deaths caused by Covid.
In the letter, leaders were urged to back the complex, ongoing international negotiations for a pandemic accord, and to do so with an eye toward ensuring that equity is a central feature of the final agreement.
To accomplish this, it was emphasized that governments would have to come to terms with the delicate matter of automatically waiving intellectual property rules in the event of international public health emergencies, so that medical technology and knowledge could be shared.
To ensure rapid development and rollout of vaccines and treatments across all regions, it also called for large-scale investments to develop scientific innovation and manufacturing capacity in the global south.
According to the report, “world leaders can begin to fix the structural problems in global health that have slowed the response to Covid-19, HIV/AIDS, and other diseases” by taking such measures.
Justice, equity, and human rights must be ingrained into pandemic planning and response, as they so desperately need to be.