The UN human rights experts Wednesday called on leaders of the world's largest economies to make sure people in the developing countries get equal access to Covid-19 vaccines and not to allow the profit motive to undermine global health and equity.
"Everyone has a right to have access to a vaccine for Covid-19 that is safe, effective, timely and based on the application of the best scientific development," they said ahead of the G7 Summit of leaders – set to be held in the UK during June 11-13.
The UN experts including Olivier De Schutter, special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Tlaleng Mofokeng, special rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Dante Pesce, chair of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, Surya Deva, vice-chair; Saad Alfarargi, special rapporteur on the right to development, made the call in a joint statement issued from Geneva.
"Now is the time for international solidarity and cooperation to provide effective assistance to all governments in their vaccination efforts and to save lives. It is not the time for protracted negotiations or for lobbying to erect barriers to protect corporate profits," they said.
The experts stressed that the extraordinarily speedy production of safe and effective vaccines against Covid-19 has not been followed by swift action to ensure equity of access across all countries and regions.
"Billions of people in the Global South are being left behind. They see vaccines as a mirage or a privilege for the developed world," they continued. "This situation will unnecessarily prolong the crisis, drastically increase the death toll and deepen economic distress, possibly sowing the seeds of social unrest."
The G7 leaders must make it their top priority to protect the rights to life and health of people in the most socially and economically precarious situations at a time when millions face poverty and hunger, said the experts.
"It is shocking that, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) reports, less than 1% of all vaccines administered so far have gone to low-income countries," they said.
The UN experts stressed the importance of ensuring that intellectual property rights do not become a barrier to low-cost production and expanded supply.
Also, they urged pharmaceutical companies to join the WHO's Covid-19 Technology Access Pool for sharing know-how, data, and to facilitate technology transfer.
They recalled that while the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) provides for certain flexibilities – including for the possibility of compulsory licensing in cases of national emergency – these remain insufficient to respond to the current pandemic.
"Maximising production of safe vaccines must take precedence over profiting from a global pandemic," they said. "States must ensure that legal protection for intellectual property and patents does not undermine the right of everyone to get access to a safe, timely and effective vaccine."
The experts also reminded states to act in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and ensure that multilateral institutions such as the WTO "neither restrain the ability of their member states to meet their duty to protect nor hinder business enterprises from respecting human rights."
They also highlighted the need to strengthen the capacity of developing countries to produce vaccines themselves by ensuring financial and technical support for local manufacturing – some of which are already taking off – and safeguarding access to active ingredients required for production.