“Never again” response to Covid-19 pandemic profiteering, world figures warn

Tuesday, March 14, 2023: The People’s Vaccine Alliance issued a letter by 204 eminent global figures on March 11, the third anniversary of the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), calling for governments to act in four ways:

  • Support a Pandemic Accord at the WHO that embeds equity and human rights in pandemic preparedness and response. To do so, it must commit governments to waive relevant intellectual property rules automatically and ensure the sharing of medical technology and knowledge when a Public Health Emergency of International Concern is declared.
  • Invest in scientific innovation and manufacturing capacity in the Global South through projects like the mRNA Technology Transfer Hub established by WHO and partners. Governments, companies, and international institutions should provide political, financial, and technical support to these initiatives to maximise production and supply for all.
  • Invest in global common goods. Public funding delivered miracles in the COVID-19 pandemic. But publicly financed medical innovations should be used to maximise the public benefit, not private profits. They should not be locked behind patents. All governments should invest more in public research and development, and place strict requirements for publicly funded medical technologies developing from that investment to be affordable and accessible to everyone, everywhere.
  • Remove the intellectual property barriers that prevent knowledge and technology sharing. Governments at the World Trade Organization (WTO) took too long and did too little to address this barrier for COVID-19 vaccines. WTO members should move to approve an intellectual property waiver for COVID-19-related vaccines and extend that decision to cover COVID-19 tests and treatments.

The Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, former first lady of South Africa and Mozambique Graça Machel, former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, East Timor President Jose Ramos Horta, and Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, are among the signatories who called on governments to “never again” allow “profiteering and nationalism” to come before the needs of humanity, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

These current and former presidents and ministers, Nobel laureates, faith leaders, heads of civil society organisations and health experts say Covid-19 vaccines and treatments had been developed with public funding but that pharmaceutical companies had exploited them to “fuel extraordinary profits”.

Instead of distributing vaccines, tests and treatments based on need, companies sold doses to the “richest countries with the deepest pockets”, the letter says. Research estimates that at least 1.3 million lives could have been saved in the first year of the vaccine rollout alone. “That lives were not saved is a scar on the world’s conscience,” the letter continues.

“With these [four] actions, world leaders can begin to fix the structural problems in global health that have held back the response to Covid-19, HIV and Aids, and other diseases,” says the letter. “It is time to embed justice, equity and human rights in pandemic preparedness and response. Only then can we truly turn the page on this chapter of history and say, ‘Never again.’”

The four demands echo those from AFTINET and public health, church, and development organisations in a letter to the Albanese Labor government. The Guardian reported on the letter.