Australia finally backs waiver of intellectual property for COVID-19 vaccine
Australia will officially support the removal of intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines to help developing countries access cheaper vaccines after months of campaigning and protests against the federal government’s position.
Spurred on by India and South Africa, efforts were made this year for a waiver of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) regarding COVID-19 vaccines and other health products.
This would allow for greater sharing of intellectual property (IP) of vaccines in order to increase the availability and affordability of products for the poorest countries.
In May this year, the United States announced that it would support the removal of intellectual property rules, and has since been joined by China and Russia, among others.
But while he welcomes the US government’s announcement and pledges to play a “constructive role” on the deal, there has been little discussion of the proposal in Australia, and the federal government has not been. was not fully committed to supporting the proposal at a meeting of the World Trade Organization.
After months of sustained pressure, the government has now confirmed that it will support the TRIPS waiver for COVID-19 vaccines at the WTO next week.
Speaking on Wednesday, Trade Minister Dan Tehan said he had discussed the issue with his counterparts in India, South Africa and the United States, and would support the proposal.
“We have always said that we will support a TRIPS waiver when it comes to COVID-19. When the United States came out and said that, the prime minister welcomed the news, ”Tehan told media on Wednesday.
“And we continue to work constructively in Geneva to do all we can to expand vaccine production globally, because we need everyone across the world to ultimately have access to a vaccine.” if we want to be safe. We have already expressed this support.
The move comes ahead of Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s trade visit to India over the weekend and a WTO TRIPS Council meeting next week.
While the government has said it has always supported waiving intellectual property, the government’s position has raised concerns, with relative silence on the issue and no formal statements of support.
Human Rights Watch has urged Australia to fully support the TRIPS waiver for several months and welcomed the confirmation this week.
“It’s about time,” Australian Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeill told InnovationAus. “The government, we believe, has been deliberately ambiguous. They did not want to firmly assert their position, so we are glad that they have now done so, but we want those words to be followed by firm action.
“This weekend, when Minister Payne is in India, we want her to express unequivocal public support for the proposal and we want this to be followed up at the TRIPS Council meeting, with Australia firmly in support. sides of the United States. It is an essential element to end this pandemic.
“This is welcome and long overdue, and we hope Australia can really help convince those resisting European countries to understand that this is the only way for all of us to be safe.”
Australia’s own difficulties in procuring COVID-19 vaccines show how difficult this process will be for poorer countries, Ms. McNeill said.
“What Australia has proven is that if a wealthy country like us cannot get enough vaccines, then clearly the current arrangements are not working. Something has to be done to fix the current production and licensing system, ”she said.
“The TRIPS waiver is not going to solve everything, there are always issues of supply and where you can make mRNA vaccines because of the technology. It won’t solve everything overnight, but we think it will help. . “
While Australia praised the U.S. government’s support for the TRIPS waiver earlier this year, officials from the department said at a Senate hearing on the estimates in July that no decision had been taken on the question at the time.
This led to a campaign urging Australia to vocally support the waiver of intellectual property, and even a protest over the issue outside the Australian Consulate in California.
Many health, human rights and other non-governmental organizations have been campaigning for the release of intellectual property for several months. The Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, which includes a group of 15 non-governmental organizations and churches, met with Mr Tehan this week and said it has confirmed Australia’s support for the TRIPS waiver.
WTO chief Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called equitable access to vaccines “a moral and economic issue of our time.”
Unsurprisingly, large pharmaceutical companies are strongly opposed to waiving intellectual property rights, with Pfizer telling the federal government in a submission earlier this year that such a move could in fact adversely affect vaccine supply and safety. in developing countries.
“Intellectual property rules allow an unprecedented amount of innovation and facilitate collaboration between innovators and biopharmaceutical partners,” Pfizer said in the submission.
“Not only would waiving TRIPS commitments send the wrong message to future innovators during the next pandemic, it could make it harder to resolve the current one, especially if companies start buying scarce inputs into the industry. hope to manufacture a vaccine using the technology developed. by others.
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