(Reuters) - Scientists on Friday called on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to support the waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments in the wake of the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
In a letter, also addressed to the British health, trade, business and foreign ministers, the scientists asked Johnson to support the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.
British officials have been sceptical about the usefulness of the waivers, but said they were open to talks with the United States and other WTO members after pressure from charities and calls from developing nations to tackle vaccine inequity.
"The crisis posed by the Omicron variant is a stark warning of the dangers posed by global vaccine inequality," the letter signed by around 300 epidemiology, health and infectious diseases experts said.
"The pandemic does not stop at the UK border".
The experts also urged Britain to persuade pharmaceutical companies to share their technology and know-how with the World Health Organization to accelerate vaccine supply to low and middle-income countries and ward off further coronavirus variants.
Omicron, which was first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong, is spreading far faster than previous variants of the coronavirus, and is not likely to help countries achieve so-called herd immunity against COVID-19, according to leading disease experts.
(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)