Mary Robinson has joined more than 150 former heads of state and Nobel laureates in signing an open letter to US president Joe Biden calling for a “people’s vaccine” to end the pandemic.
India and South Africa have led the campaign, which calls for intellectual property rights on Covid-19 vaccines to be waived so that production can be ramped up globally.
The Biden Administration is said to be considering a temporary waiver of World Trade Organisation (WTO) intellectual property rules during the pandemic.
Former president Dr Robinson has supported the campaign, and has also called on EU leaders to “put the collective right to safety for all ahead of everything else – and come together to end this pandemic.”
The letter to Mr Biden says the waiver will “save lives and advance us towards global herd immunity.”
It states: “These actions would expand global manufacturing capacity, unhindered by industry monopolies that are driving the dire supply shortages blocking vaccine access.
“Nine in 10 people in most poor countries may well go without a vaccine this year.
“At this pace, many nations will be left waiting until at least 2024 to achieve mass Covid-19 immunisation.”
It adds: “The full protection of intellectual property and monopolies will only negatively impact efforts to vaccinate the world and be self-defeating for the US.
“Were the virus left to roam the world, and even if vaccinated, people in the US would continue to be exposed to new viral variants.”
Along with Dr Robinson, the letter has been signed by former UK prime minister Gordon Brown, former French president Francois Hollande, and ex-Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu is among the Nobel laureates adding their voice.
It calls for a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (Trips) waiver for the vaccines.
They argue it would increase supply to the point where vaccines are available easily and affordably in low to middle income countries, in turn making the rest of the world safer, and ending the pandemic sooner.
They have called on Mr Biden to recall the “painful lessons” learned from unequal access to treatment for diseases such as HIV.
It adds: “Supporting the emergency waiver of Covid-19 related intellectual property rules will give people around the globe a chance to wake up to a world free from the virus. We need a people’s vaccine.
“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 monopolies of the few.”
The campaign has also been backed by the charity Oxfam Ireland.
Chief executive Jim Clarken said: “The continuance of monopoly control by a small number of vaccine makers, and the resulting global vaccine inequality, is leaving millions of lives hanging in the balance by putting corporate profit before people.
“Oxfam fully support Mary Robinson’s call for EU leaders to urgently reconsider their opposition to the Trips waiver – and offer their full support.
“By doing this, the European Union will not only save millions of peoples’ lives, but also mitigate the risk to our economies and the current backslide in workplace gender equality.”