Prince Harry and Meghan have joined Charlize Theron, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, UNAIDS Director Winnie Byanyima, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and over 120 other world leaders and organizations in calling for wealthy nations to step up and commit to ending the pandemic.
In a powerfully-worded open letter published on the second anniversary of COVID-19 officially being declared a pandemic, and coordinated by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, the co-signed reminded wealthy countries that the pandemic is not over for everyone, everywhere, and that there are still a great number of people — particularly in low- and middle-income nations — that are in urgent need of COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.
“While some in wealthy countries become complacent about this unprecedented crisis,” the letter read, “billions of people in the global south remain vulnerable to this terrible disease, facing the threat of severe illness and death.”
The letter also stresses that urgent vaccine equity is needed to avoid stronger variants emerging that current vaccines may not be able to defend against.
This is not the first time that Prince Harry and Meghan, or Charlize Theron, have called for global vaccine equity. In October 2021, prior to the Omicron outbreak, Theron made a public call for a waiver on patents, and for wealthy countries to prioritize vaccinating low-income nations ahead of administering booster shots to their own populations.
“I do think we are asking people to maybe think beyond themselves, right?” said Theron in an interview with BBC Africa. “What is enough in countries like America and the UK? Do we need this extra jab? Or is it smarter for us to maybe reach out to countries and get more people on that first vaccine?”
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have consistently supported the call for vaccine equity, serving as co-chairs for Global Citizen’s Vax Live campaign in 2021, and using almost every public opportunity to call for vaccines to be shared with countries in need so that the pandemic can well and truly come to an end.
“The virus does not respect borders, and access to the vaccine cannot be determined by geography. It must be accepted as a basic right for all and that is our starting point,” Prince Harry said at Global Citizen’s Vax Live: A Concert to Reunite the World.
The signatories — which also include the likes of South Africa’s former first lady, Graça Machel, as well as Nobel laureate and former president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — are urging wealthy nations to fulfill their COVID-19 vaccine commitments to countries in the global south, and to support an intellectual property waiver and technology transfer so that middle- and low-income nations can become self-sufficient in producing vaccines, tests, and treatments.
The leaders and organizations made a compelling comparison to previous public health threats in their call, pointing to the fact that wealthy countries are sitting idly by, yet again, as a disease ravages populations.
“We knew the painful lessons from a history of unequal access in dealing with diseases such as HIV and Ebola. [...] But world leaders did not listen and failed to heed the warning that ‘those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.’”
The open letter particularly singles out the European Union, the UK, and Switzerland for their unwillingness to support a waiver against intellectual property rules that could increase global vaccine manufacturing capacity.
“World leaders, and particularly rich nations, have the responsibility to change this situation and ensure the publicly funded vaccine technology and know-how is available to the global south,” the letter said. “The current approach is immoral, entirely self-defeating, and also an ethical, economic, and epidemiological failure."
In the letter they’re calling for: a united and strategic effort to meet the World Health Organizations’ goal of vaccinating 70% of people by mid-2022; for wealthy countries and big pharmaceutical companies to allow the sharing of patents and transfer of technology for the global south’s self-sufficiency; increased funding globally for vaccine manufacturing and research; and investments in public health systems for middle- and low-income countries so that they’re able to vaccinate as many people as possible.
“Every life lost now to vaccine apartheid is avoidable,” the letter continued. “Only a People’s Vaccine — based on the principles of equity and solidarity — can protect all of humanity and create a fairer, safer, more prosperous world.”
You can join the movement and take action now to call on world leaders to do more to ensure vaccine equity and bring the COVID-19 pandemic to an end for everyone, everywhere. Take action here.