Nobel laureate calls for end to intellectual property rules for COVID vaccines

Social entrepreneur and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus on Saturday called for a full waiver of intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, saying that “liberating” technology “from profit and patents is the key” to a global healthcare system that puts human life above corporate profit.

In a column published on Saturday in Statistical News, Yunus – who has previously joined with other Nobel laureates to push for the end of intellectual property barriers – highlighted global inequality in access to vaccines.

He referred to Oxfam’s estimate that it would take the poorest countries another two and a half years to reach the World Health Organization’s goal of vaccinating 70% of the world’s population.

“Vaccines denied for more than a year,” low-income countries are now seeing doses arrive, he wrote, but it won’t be those countries that decide when the company’s products arrive or when. schedule, which will complicate vaccination campaigns. A similar phenomenon, he added, is happening now with antiviral pills, which are hoarded by rich countries.

“Wealth is power,” Yunus wrote. “And the brutally uneven global deployment of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments is the consequence of an ever-increasing concentration of wealth and an emphasis on maximizing profits.”

The pharmaceutical industry, he claimed, is in search of “ever larger profits” and thus provides vaccines to the highest bidder.

Yunus went on to accuse “wealthy nations, the G10, the continued beneficiaries of the wealth concentration economic machine” of profiting from the current framework at the expense of the rest of the world. But those same wealthy nations, he said, “have the resources to close the big vaccine gap, if they want to.”

A key step to ensuring equitable access to vaccines, according to Yunus, is the creation of pharmaceutical companies focused on solving social problems rather than profit, ones that could distribute the doses at cost. And that means “removing barriers like intellectual property rules”.

It must happen this month, he said, with world leaders taking a step they have so far refused to do in the pandemic – backing a full waiver of parts of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). He pointed out that the EU and the UK have so far blocked such an effort. He also called on the United States to support a vaccine-only waiver.

“There is still time for world leaders to say never again,” he wrote, “and commit to a fairer global health system that puts human life first rather than to the profits of a handful of pharmaceutical companies”.

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