COVID-19 survivors from 37 countries sign open letter for 'people's vaccine' ahead of UN summit

Survivors of COVID-19 from 37 countries are among almost 1,000 people who have signed an open letter to pharmaceutical industry leaders calling for a ‘people's vaccine' and treatments that are available to all – free from patents. The letter was released yesterday, on the eve of a high-level side event about the pandemic at the UN General Assembly in New York later today.

The signatories include 242 COVID-19 survivors from South Africa to Finland and New Zealand to Brazil. They also include 190 people in 46 countries who have lost relatives to the virus, and 572 signatories with underlying health conditions that mean they face a greater risk of severe illness if they contract COVID-19.

The letter says: “Some of us have lost loved ones to this killer disease. Some of us have come close to death ourselves. Some of us are continuing to live in fear that contracting this disease would be fatal for us. We see no justification why your profit or monopolies should mean anyone else should go through this.”

It describes pharmaceutical corporations as “carrying on with business as usual - defending monopolies while refusing to share research and know-how” and calls on industry leaders to “ensure COVID-19 vaccines and treatments reach everyone who needs them by preventing monopolies, ramping up production and sharing knowledge.”

Pharmaceutical monopolies will restrict the production of effective vaccines and treatments to a small number of manufacturers, preventing the mass production that is needed to meet global demand. The letter demands that corporations immediately license vaccine technology and intellectual property rights to the WHO COVID-19 Technology Access Pool (C-TAP).

One of the signatories, Dilafruz Gafurova, 43, from Tajikistan, said: “Me and my husband got sick with this disease. We could only rely on ourselves as hospitals were full … It was really difficult to get the right medicines. I am a mother of four children … I was afraid to leave them alone in this world if something bad could happen with me … The reason I am signing this letter is to help others to get [a] vaccine. Not all the people around the world can get this vaccine, as they simply cannot afford it. They hardly [have enough to meet] their daily needs.”

The letter was organised by the People's Vaccine Alliance, a global coalition of organisations and activists united under a common aim of campaigning for a people's vaccine for COVID-19 that is based on shared knowledge and is freely available to everyone everywhere.

Tomorrow at the UN General Assembly, Bill Gates and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be among other high-profile figures discussing vaccine access. So far rich nations have failed to exert pressure on pharmaceutical corporations to share technology to maximise the supply of successful vaccines and treatments worldwide.

Heidi Chow from Global Justice Now, a member of the People's Vaccine Alliance said: “Pharmaceutical companies need to pay attention to the demands of people from around the world who have experienced the fear and devastation of COVID-19. The industry cannot block its ears to these voices but should respond immediately by ending their monopolies and commit to sharing manufacturing know-how. These actions are crucial to expand vaccine supplies so that all countries can affordably access effective vaccines.”

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS, said: "With AIDS we saw that when treatments were found the wealthier people in wealthier countries got back to health, while millions of people in developing countries were left to die. We must not repeat the same mistake when a vaccine for COVID-19 is found. The right to health is a human right—it should not depend on the money in your pocket or the colour of your skin to be vaccinated against this deadly virus. A vaccine should be a global public good and free of charge for all."

The Alliance is also calling on governments to make public funding for research and development of COVID-19 diagnostics, vaccines and treatments conditional on pharmaceutical companies sharing their knowledge and technology free from patents. When an effective vaccine is available, the Alliance demands that doses are fairly distributed with priority given to health workers and other at-risk groups in all countries.