Read the full letter and list of signatories
450 academics, civil society organisations, politicians, unions, faith leaders, and healthcare workers call for Boris Johnson to waive vaccine patents
"Drop the patents. End vaccine apartheid" beamed onto the UK pharma lobby. Photo: Jess Hurd

450 academics, civil society organisations, politicians, unions, faith leaders, and healthcare workers call for Boris Johnson to waive vaccine patents

Date: 10 May 2021

  • Prime Minister urged to “stand on the right side of history” after Biden administration announces support for a waiver

Hundreds of academics, public health experts, MPs, peers, charities, NGOs, unions, faith leaders and healthcare workers have signed a letter calling for Boris Johnson to suspend intellectual property rules on Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.

It comes after the Biden administration announced on Wednesday it would support a waiver to help scale up global vaccine production to produce safe and effective Covid-19 vaccines for all people, in all countries.

Over 140 academics, development experts, and public health experts, including Mary De Silva Head of Population Health at the Wellcome Trust and members of Independent SAGE like Christina Pagel and Stephen Reicher, have added their names to the letter warning that an intellectual property waiver is “crucial towards ending this global pandemic and achieving worldwide immunity”.

The letter, organised by Global Justice Now, STOPAIDS, and Just Treatment, is backed by more than 80 charities and NGOs, including Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, Save the Children, Transparency International, War on Want, Trócaire. ActionAid, Plan International, and the Fairtrade Foundation.

More than 70 cross-party MPs and peers have added their names to the call, including former Conservative ministers Baroness Verma and Dr Daniel Poulter MP, Liberal Democrats including Foreign Affairs and Health spokesperson Layla Moran, SNP Green MP Caroline Lucas, well-known figures like Jeremy Corbyn, and Labour MPs including Sarah Champion, Chair of the International Development Committee.

Lord Bernard Ribeiro, Conservative peer and former president of the Royal College of Surgeons; Lord Leslie Turnberg, former president of the Royal College of Physicians; Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, human rights lawyer and former shadow attorney general; Lord Malcolm Bruce, former Chair of the International Development Committee have called on the Prime Minister to support the waiver.

Dozens of healthcare workers, faith leaders, Covid survivors, and patient advocates have joined them, alongside the TUC, the UK’s largest union Unison, the University and College Union, the Communications Workers Union, transport unions ASLEF and TSSA, and the Fire Brigades Union.

India and South Africa first proposed an intellectual property waiver at the World Trade Organisation six months ago, backed by more than 100 mostly low-and-middle-income nations. But a small number of mostly wealthy states, including the US, UK, and EU have blocked the move so far

With the European Union “ready to discuss” a patent waiver, signatories are urging the UK government to drop its own opposition to the proposal.

The letter calls on Boris Johnson to “provide the leadership to ensure an end to this global crisis” and to “stand on the right side of history”.

It warns that “defending intellectual property at all costs will not only lead to even more unnecessary loss of lives but is an unprecedented act of collective self-harm.”

World-leading epidemiologists have warned that allowing the virus to spread in low and middle-income countries will increase the risk of vaccine-resistant mutations that could render our current generation of vaccines obsolete by the end of the year.

Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, a signatory to the letter, warned in The Times earlier this week that the UK would fall foul of its international human rights obligations if the government remains “complicit” in the “human rights catastrophe” currently being caused by intellectual property restrictions on vaccine supply.

Heidi Chow, Senior campaigns and policy manager at Global Justice Now, said:

“Right now, there are factories sitting idle that could be producing billions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines, but intellectual property rules are restricting production to the supply chains just a few companies. 

“It is utterly shameful that the U.K. remains complicit in this crisis. The Prime Minister must now read the writing on the wall, step up and support a patent waiver for the sake of all humanity.”

Protestors will gather outside AstraZeneca’s Cambridge and Macclesfield sites on Tuesday, as the company holds its Annual General Meeting (AGM), to demand the company release its patents on the Oxford vaccine and commit to sharing its vaccine technology and knowhow with the World Health Organisation.

Elizabeth Baines, Campaign Organiser at Just Treatment, said:

“Covid-19 vaccines have been discovered and produced largely thanks to billions in public funding. Suspending patents so the whole world can benefit would be a long-overdue public return on this public investment in innovation. 

“Boris Johnson must do all he can to get doses into the arms of everyone, everywhere. And right now, that means standing up to big pharma, waiving intellectual property, and making these companies share their vaccine technology and knowhow with the World Health Organisation.”

Recent polling from the People’s Vaccine Alliance found that three-quarters of people in the UK want the government to prevent pharmaceutical companies from holding monopolies on Covid-19 vaccines. Support cut across political boundaries, backed by 73% of Conservative voters, 83% of Labour and 79% of Liberal Democrats, as well as 83% of Remain and 72% of Leave voters.

Saoirse Fitzpatrick, Advocacy Manager at STOPAIDS, said:

“Across the world, people are dying needlessly from Covid-19 because we aren’t producing enough vaccines. What charitable programmes like COVAX miss is that this is a problem of supply – and one of the biggest barriers to maximising supply is intellectual property restrictions.

“This letter demonstrates the clear consensus that is emerging around this common-sense solution, backed by experts, patients, politicians, scientists, and economists. The Prime Minister must follow in Joe Biden’s footsteps and support it.”

Moderna, Pfizer/BioNtech, Johnson & Johnson, Novovax and Oxford/AstraZeneca received billions in public funding and guaranteed pre-orders, including $12 billion from the US government alone. An estimated 97% of funding for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine came from public sources.

The companies have paid out a combined $26 billion in dividends and stock buybacks to their shareholders this year, enough to vaccinate at least 1.3 billion people, equivalent to the population of Africa.


Notes for editors

When asked by if they support the statement ‘Governments should compensate fairly for any COVID-19 vaccine developed by a pharmaceutical company but ensure they don’t have a monopoly by sharing these formulas and technology with other approved companies’,: 74% supported the statement. 73% of Conservative voters, 82% of Labour, 79% of Liberal Democrat. 83% of Remain voters and 72% of Leave voters. (polling by YouGov, Sample Size: 1788 UK Adults, Fieldwork: 23rd – 24th February 2021)

The People’s Vaccine Alliance is a movement of health, humanitarian and human rights organisations, past and present world leaders, health experts, faith leaders and economists advocating that Covid 19 vaccines are manufactured rapidly and at scale, as global common goods, free of intellectual property protections and made available to all people, in all countries, free of charge.