Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus launched a call for Covid-19 vaccines to be declared a "Common Good" in June 2020, which has been joined by 24 other Nobel laureates and 125 former presidents, prime ministers and eminent global figures.
With the upcoming EU Council Meeting of the European heads of state, The TRIPS Council, WTO General Council, and the African Union meetings, nearly one million (913,453) people as of Friday have supported a petition initiated by Yunus to urge their governments and businesses to make Covid-19 vaccines available everywhere without barriers from intellectual property right restrictions.
The petition, circulated intensively around the world by US-based nonprofit organisation Avaaz, is urging the pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily hand over intellectual property rights and know-how for the next great task facing humanity: getting those vaccines to everyone, everywhere, at the lowest cost, in the fastest possible time, said a press release from the Yunus Centre on Friday.
Yunus commented that countries in Europe and America have locked up most of the global supply of vaccines for their own populations, pushing lower income nations to the back of the queue. Under current mechanisms such as Covax, which are commendable, there simply will not be enough vaccine doses to go around by the end of 2021. The global north fails to listen to the urgent warning from Dr Tedros, director-general of the World Health Organization, that "No one is safe until everyone is safe."
Yunus further highlighted that to meet the recent challenges, countries urgently need to ramp up diagnostics tools, get access to potentially effective treatments at the lowest cost, and vaccinate their most at-risk – healthcare providers and the elderly – as rapidly as possible.
For this reason, almost 100 countries are supporting a proposal at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) this month to issue a broad-based general waiver on patents and other IP rights to all Covid-19 vaccines and medical technologies.
South Africa, a country where the tragic history of lives needlessly lost to the HIV/Aids pandemic looms large, is a co-sponsor of the proposal. A binding agreement to allow the vaccine to be patent-free, could transform the situation dramatically by sending a clear message that the vaccine is a global common good, reads the press release.
The pledge from Yunus stresses the fact that there should not be a north-south divide on the core issue of saving human lives in countries where most of the global population lives. The time has come for G20 leaders to show that they mean every word when they say they will "spare no effort" to leave no one behind. They have to step up to support the WTO proposal.
Since his first appeal in June, Yunus joined the People's Vaccine Alliance, and has been working with many global organisations such as UNAIDs, Oxfam and twenty other organisations, to reach out to the United Nations, government leaders and decisionmakers.
Yunus, along with other members of the Alliance, initiated a draft resolution for the UN General Assembly to declare Covid-19 vaccines a global common good.