Ex-leaders, Nobel winners urge U.S. to back COVID vaccine waiver

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LONDON (Reuters) - More than 60 former heads of state, including former leaders of Britain and France, and over 100 Nobel Prize winners called on U.S. President Joe Biden to back a waiver of intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines.

A waiver would boost vaccine manufacturing and speed up the response to the pandemic in poorer countries which otherwise might have to wait years, they said in a joint letter to Biden sent to news organisations on Wednesday.

"President Biden has said that no one is safe until everyone is safe, and now with the G7 ahead there is an unparalleled opportunity to provide the leadership that only the U.S. can provide," said former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, referring to an upcoming meeting of the world's wealthiest countries.

The letter asked Biden to back a proposal by South Africa and India at the World Trade Organization to temporarily waive intellectual property rules related to COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

It said that, based on the current pace of vaccine production, most poor nations will have to wait until at least 2024 to achieve mass COVID-19 immunization.

"New mutations of the virus will continue to cost lives and upend our interconnected global economy until everyone, everywhere has access to a safe and effective vaccine," said Nobel Economics Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz.

Other signatories included Francois Hollande, Mary Robinson, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Juan Manuel Santos and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - formerly presidents of France, Ireland, Brazil, Colombia and Liberia - and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

The letter was coordinated by the People's Vaccine Alliance, a coalition of more than 50 development organizations.

(Writing by William Schomberg; editing by Jonathan Oatis)