Nobel winners call for coronavirus vaccines to be available for all

by Darnell Christie | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 29 June 2020 18:12 GMT

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken April 10, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

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The founder of the microcredit movement Muhammad Yunus fears poor countries will be left behind

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By Darnell Christie

LONDON, June 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu and actor George Clooney are among more than 100 people who have signed an appeal for COVID-19 vaccines to be declared a global common good and made widely available.

The appeal is led by the founder of the microcredit movement Muhammad Yunus, also a Nobel peace prize winner, who said some pharmaceutical companies had declared vaccines would be provided to rich countries in Europe and the United States first.

"What happens to the rest of the world? It's as if the rest of the world will be forgotten," said the founder of the Yunus Centre, set up more than a decade ago to fight poverty.

"This is a vaccine that is needed by 8 billion people. What happens to poor people? What happens to poor countries who cannot afford to pay the prices that they'll be charging in the rich countries?"

There is currently no vaccine against COVID-19, but more than 100 are in development around the world as drugmakers race to combat the pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 people globally.

Experts predict a safe and effective vaccine could take 12-18 months to develop.

Once that has happened, Callum Mackenzie, a director of Yunus Thailand, warned that difficulties in obtaining it could lead to a proliferation of fakes in poorer countries.

British drugmaker AstraZeneca has already begun human trials of a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford.

It would cost about 2.5 euros ($2.8) per dose in Europe, according to Italy's health ministry, and the company does not expect to profit from it during the pandemic.

Yunus said he was also planning to create an open-source company to produce vaccines around the world and was open to discussion with governments and pharmaceutical companies on how to set it up.

"With social business, shareholders don't want to make any profit out of it so no dividend is taken from the company and we can reduce the cost and produce anywhere," he said.

Actress Sharon Stone and entrepreneur Richard Branson are also among those who have signed the appeal.

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(Reporting by Darnell Christie, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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