Meghan Markle and Prince Harry have signed an open letter condemning the UK government’s refusal to lift intellectual property rules to allow mass manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments.
The letter, published by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a group working to make vaccines freely available to all, calls the current approach of world governments “immoral, entirely self-defeating and also an ethical, economic and epidemiology”.
It was signed by more than 130 public figures to mark the second anniversary of the World Health Organization’s announcement that the COVID-19 outbreak had become a pandemic.
Prince Harry signed the letter alongside his wife Meghan Markle and James Holt, the couple’s executive director of the Archewell Foundation. Other signatories include actress Charlize Theron, a UN “messenger of peace”, three Nobel laureates and numerous former presidents and prime ministers, including former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
An excerpt from the letter says:
“The European Union, the United Kingdom and Switzerland continue to block the lifting of intellectual property rules that would allow the redistribution and scaling of COVID-19 vaccines, the manufacture of tests and treatments in countries The transfer of vaccine technology and know-how from pharmaceutical companies would speed production to a few months.Yet even today, a handful of these companies retain the power to dictate supply, distribution and vaccine prices – and the power to decide who lives and who dies.”
South Africa and India have called in 2020 for the temporary lifting of patents on COVID-19 vaccines and therapies to expand global access to lifesaving medicines. But talks on the issue at the World Trade Organization have stalled. The United States supported a waiver in principle, but the United Kingdom, the European Union and Switzerland, all of which host large pharmaceutical companies, opposed it.
COVID vaccination rates vary widely between rich and poor countries. According to a UK Parliament research paper, just 9% of people in low-income countries had received at least one dose of the vaccine by early January, compared to 77% in wealthy states.
Prince Harry’s condemnation of the UK government comes after he sought a ‘judicial review’ of the government’s decision to provide him with a reduced security detail after he stepped down as a full-time working member of the Royal Family.
In a statement in January, Harry’s legal team said the government’s decision prevented him from returning home and seeing his family:
“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex personally fund a private security team for their family, but this security cannot replicate the police protection needed in the UK. Without such protection, Prince Harry and his family cannot return to his home,” it read.
Both Meghan and Harry have been prominent voices calling for vaccine equality in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter marking World AIDS Day in December 2021, Harry wrote:
“It is striking to see now that the world’s leading AIDS activists are also leading the call for equity in COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccinating the world is a test of our moral character and we are experiencing a spectacular failure of global vaccine equity. to the AIDS crisis, we have again revealed over the past year that the value of life depends on whether you were born and/or live in a wealthy country or in a developing country.”
Harry and Meghan also contributed to the ‘Vax Live’ fundraising concert in 2021, and Harry used his platform at the GQ Men of the Year Awards ceremony in September that year to advocate for vaccine equality, stating, “We cannot move forward together unless we address this imbalance as a whole.”
The People’s Vaccine Alliance letter calls on governments to take five urgent steps to end unfair vaccine distribution. These include implementing a global roadmap to meet the World Health Organization’s goal of fully immunizing 70% of the world’s population by mid-2022, and suspending all intellectual property rights rules relating to COVID-19 medicines to enable global knowledge sharing.
Newsweek asked the British government to comment on the open letter.