Ahead of a World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting on June 12, several prominent civil society organisations are calling for a waiver on intellectual property rules for COVID-19 medicines.
Concerns from the group, which includes Médecins Sans Frontières Australia and the Public Health Assocation of Australia, are for low-income countries, which see only 17.8% of people having had at least one dose, according to Our World in Data.
The group is requesting the Labor government support a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver to prevent what it calls a monopoly on pharmaceutical companies’ ownership of COVID-19 vaccines.
Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network convener Dr Patricia Ranald called the unequal access to vaccines a ‘scandal’.
“Governments are protecting pharmaceutical monopolies at the expense of human lives. The Labor government must implement its policy to support a comprehensive waiver on monopolies to save millions of lives,” Ranald said.
While in opposition, back in October 2021, then-shadow minister for trade Madeline King called on the government to support a waiver for COVID-19 intellectual property rules.
“Our global economy will only move through the COVID-19 global pandemic if vaccines are available to all. Vaccine accessibility in both developed and developing nations is imperative for global supply chains to recover,” King said in a statement at the time.
Those in the advocacy group include the Public Health Association of Australia, Médecins Sans Frontières Australia, Oxfam Australia, and Public Services International.
A TRIPS waiver was first proposed by India and South Africa 20 months ago.
Since then, major pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced it would provide its current and future patent-protected medicines and vaccines to 45 low-income countries, including Rwanda, Ghana, and Malawi.
“As we learned in the global COVID-19 vaccine rollout, supply is only the first step to helping patients. We will work closely with global health leaders to make improvements in diagnosis, education, infrastructure, storage and more,” Pfizer chair and CEO Albert Bourla said.