Scientists warn G7 leaders of critical vulnerabilities in pandemic preparedness

Scientists warn G7 leaders of critical vulnerabilities in pandemic preparedness

Release date: 19 May 2023

Read the full letter here.

Scientists have warned G7 leaders that the world is not prepared for the next pandemic and, without urgent action, will repeat the inequality of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the next health crisis. In a letter ahead of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, some of the world’s foremost public health experts want to ensure that low and middle-income countries can access and produce vaccines, tests, and treatments in the next pandemic.

It comes as governments at the World Health Organization (WHO) negotiate a Pandemic Accord – often referred to as a Pandemic Treaty – that will govern the how the world prepares for and responds to the next global health crisis. In their letter, scientists say that G7 leaders must protect “equity and the right to life” over “windfall profits” in the negotiations.

In the COVID-19 pandemic, “strict intellectual property rules secured monopolies for pharmaceutical companies and prevented the widespread production of affordable generic vaccines and medicines in developing countries,” they warn. It was the lack of patent protection in India, before the country had to adopt World Trade Organization rules on intellectual property, that allowed generic production of the first HIV antiretrovirals, eventually leading to their widespread availability and affordability.

The letter urges G7 leaders to resist the “extreme view” of pharmaceutical companies, who advocate for a “maximalist approach” to intellectual property rules, which scientists say disregard public health needs. Last month, pharmaceutical CEOs lobbied Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Chair of the G7, against measures to help low and middle-income countries in the next pandemic.

The signatories praise measures in a draft of the Pandemic Accord, under negotiation at the WHO, that would require the suspension of intellectual property rules on relevant products and the transfer of technology to low- and middle-income countries when WHO declares a public health emergency with international concern. It is critical, they say, to remove “every barrier to the development and production of medicines and vaccines.”

But pharmaceutical companies are lobbying against the measures, advocating for a “maximalist” approach to intellectual property rules, which “flies in the face of mainstream scientific opinion,” scientists say. They urge G7 leaders to “resist the lobbying of institutions that have repeatedly prioritised maximising profits over public health needs.”

“There is no time to waste”, the scientists warn, pointing to modelling from Airfinity suggesting there is a 27.5% chance of a pandemic as deadly as COVID-19 in the next ten years[1], and a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the annual probability of extreme epidemics occurring could increase threefold in the coming decades.

The warning comes from some of the world’s most senior epidemiologists and scientists who guided the response to AIDS and COVID-19 in low and middle-income countries, including Quarraisha and Salim Abdool Karim, advisors to the WHO and UNAIDS who were awarded the Government of Japan’s Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize in 2022; and Wafaa El-Sadr of Columbia University, who has pioneered approaches to HIV care and leads the New York City Pandemic Response Institute.

They join Jorge Bermudez, Head of Department of Policies for Pharmaceutical Drugs and Assistance  of the National School of Public Health at Fiocruz in Brazil, and Silvio Garattini of the Mario Negri Institute in Italy, two of the world’s foremost pharmacological research institutes; Githinji Gitahi, CEO of Amref Health Africa, Africa’s largest health NGO; Craig Spencer of Brown University; Francois Venter of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa; and Linda-Gail Bekker, Director of the Desmond Tutu Health Foundation.

Fumiko Kasuga, Director of the Future Earth Global Hub in Japan, has signed; alongside Tomomi Asaka, Chief of the International Medical Support Center at  Japan Red Cross Narita Hospital; Taro Yamamoto of the Institute of Tropical Medicine at  Nagasaki University in Japan; Anton Pozniak, President of NEAT ID, the European treatment network for HIV, hepatitis, and global infectious diseases; Chang-yup Kim of Seoul National University, President of the People’s Health Institute; and Yvonne Gilleece of Brighton & Sussex Medical School, Chair of the British HIV Association.

Their intervention comes after G7 Health Ministers committed to establish a new programme to distribute vaccines to developing countries, despite COVAX, the facility that aimed to do this in the COVID-19 pandemic, being widely condemned as a failure. The health ministers’ communique did not mention intellectual property rules.

Dr Craig Spencer, Associate Professor of the Practice, Brown University School of Public Health:

“As scientists and physicians, we believe in health as a human right. And we believe that the right to health is more important than windfall profits, particularly in a health crisis. The pharmaceutical industry will always lobby to maximise their own profits, regardless of the impact on public health, but G7 leaders must resist. We cannot double-down on implementation of  intellectual property rules that makes pandemics longer, costlier, and deadlier.”

Dr Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA, said:

“G7 Health Ministers have discussed preparing for the next pandemic but have not considered important lessons from COVID-19. The variants of concern provide compelling evidence of how short-sighted the hoarding of vaccine doses, undermining of COVAX, and protection of IP rights on a global public good in a pandemic situation by the wealthiest nations was.  

“G7 leaders are not heeding the warning from the WHO director-general that  ‘no one is safe until we are all safe’ but choosing to  prioritize protection of profits over respect for all lives allowed the virus to spread and mutate unabated rendering everyone vulnerable, despite vaccination.

“If politicians are to prepare for the ongoing and future global crises, restore public trust, and ensure all of humanity benefits from knowledge generated, they must start building a fairer, more equitable global response today.”



The full letter is available here:

The letter was coordinated by the People’s Vaccine Alliance, a global coalition of over 100 organisations and networks, supported by Nobel Laureates, health experts, economists, Heads of States, faith leaders and activists, working together towards equitable access to medical technologies that help to prevent and respond to COVID-19 and future pandemics.

People’s Vaccine Alliance spokespeople are available for interview, including in Hiroshima.

[1] Airfinity:

Media contact

Joe Karp-Sawey, Senior Media Advisor, People’s Vaccine Alliance

[email protected]