Australia hesitant to back plan to let poor countries make cheap copies of Covid vaccines | Australian foreign policy

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International aid groups, health organisations and unions are pleading with the Morrison government to support a World Trade Organization proposal designed to allow developing countries to make and sell cheap copies of patented vaccines, to achieve a quicker end to the global pandemic.

The WTO proposal would suspend Covid vaccine patents for successful jab formulas invented by pharmaceutical giants for the duration of the pandemic so poorer countries could acquire more affordable doses faster.

The Australian government has been urged to support the proposal to be put to member nations at a key WTO meeting on Wednesday and Thursday marking the anniversary of the pandemic’s declaration, however trade minister Dan Tehan has indicated that Australia will oppose the waiver for vaccine patents unless it can secure last-minute changes to protect “the millions of dollars that has gone into the research”.

More than 85 poor countries are not predicted to achieve widespread vaccination rollout before 2023, if at all, because of licensing rules and distribution limits that the World Health Organization director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has labelled a “catastrophic moral failure”.

Tedros, writing in the Guardian, has also warned that the longer Covid-19 circulates in developing nations, the greater the chance more deadly and vaccine-resistant variants emerge that could stifle immunity in wealthy, well-vaccinated countries.

In a joint letter seen by the Guardian, the heads of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australian Council for International Development, Oxfam Australia, Public Health Association of Australia and other groups have asked the Morrison government to support the waiver of certain intellectual property rights.

They argued the waiver was necessary to achieve a faster, widespread rollout in developing countries, which was a moral duty as well as having a local economic benefit because “no one is safe unless everyone is safe”.

“To overcome this pandemic, we need global cooperation and solidarity,” the leaders wrote.

“We urge the Australian Government to value human rights above intellectual property rights,” the letter said.

The proposal from India and South Africa has the backing of 100 countries, however WTO members are split.

Low and middle-income countries are in favour of the waiver, while pharmaceutical companies and governments in the US, UK and Europe are understood to be strongly opposed to the waiver. The Swiss-based International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations has argued that cutting companies’ returns is a disincentive to innovation.

The WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement requires member nations to provide patent protection for at least 20 years.

The ACTU president, Michele O’Neil, said: “Big Pharma are profiting massively while frontline workers and high risk people in developing nations suffer because of outdated intellectual property laws that are no longer fit-for-purpose.”

O’Neil noted coronavirus outbreaks have “brought societies and economies to their knees”, and that a thorough and fast global vaccination rollout will “kick start the recovery process”.

“Australia has a duty to support developing countries to protect their people from this virus and save as many lives as possible.

“The Morrison government should value people’s health and wellbeing over putting more money in the hands of Big Pharma,” O’Neil said.

The Acfid chief executive Marc Purcell said it was in Australia’s “national interest” to “make generic vaccines available everywhere as fast as possible”.

“As long as Covid-19 rages around the developing countries, Australia’s economic and public health recovery will be undermined due to new variants of the virus hitting us and reducing the lifespan of vaccinations in Australia,” Purcell said.

The Oxfam Australia chief executive, Lyn Morgain said: “Australia must join with other nations to ensure that vaccine science and know-how is shared with qualified manufacturers around the world rather than remaining exclusively the property of a handful of pharmaceutical giants.”

The Public Health Association chief executive, Terry Slevin, said: “Wealthy developed countries have both a responsibility and a strong incentive to assist low-middle income countries with achieving vaccine access and success.”

The letter, which was also signed by the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society, and the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, among other groups, was sent to Tehan, foreign minister, Marise Payne, and international development minister, Zed Seselja.

On Wednesday morning, Tehan told ABC Radio “we’ve got to make sure that there are some protections in place for the millions of dollars that has gone into the research to create these vaccines”.

“If we can get a proper resolution that we’re working towards, and all the discussions have been very constructive so far, so my hope is that we can get a resolution,” Tehan said.

The WHO is in favour of the waiver, with Tedros saying the world needs to be “on a war footing” regarding vaccine rollout.

“Flexibilities in trade regulations exist for emergencies, and surely a global pandemic which has forced many societies to shut down and caused so much harm to business – both large and small – qualifies,” Tedros said.

Tedros, noting Ghana had become the first country to take delivery of AstraZeneca vaccine doses as part of the United Nations Covax initiative in February, thanked AstraZeneca for sharing its licenses.

However, the arrangement has been criticised, after 10 million doses to be produced in India by the main supplier of cheap Covax doses were instead diverted to the United Kingdom amid pressure to send more doses to Europe.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Australia hesitant to back plan to let poor countries make cheap copies of Covid vaccines | Australian foreign policy

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