One year on, Big Pharma and some governments still backing COVID vaccine monopolies while millions die

October 5, 2021: One year ago, and seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, India and South Africa put forward the “TRIPS Waiver” proposal: a ground-breaking solution for a temporary waiver on WTO rules that give pharmaceutical companies 20-year monopolies on COVID-related vaccines and related products.

Waiving these rules would address global shortages and enable a massive increase in production to enable equitable access to vaccines, tests, treatments, or other medical tools needed to tackle COVID-19 for low-income countries.

In the past year, the TRIPS Waiver has received a surge of global support and solidarity from civil society activists and over 100 governments, determined to make the waiver a reality. Despite this overwhelming support, a small minority of high-income governments (including the EU, UK, Norway and Switzerland) do not support the waiver.

Meanwhile, more than 3.6 million people have lost their lives since the proposal was first introduced to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on 2 October 2020.

The US has so far agreed only to waive only patents on vaccines, leaving tests, medicines, and other tools and still firmly under the control of pharma companies’ monopolies. 

In Australia, campaigning by AFTINET and civil society organisations has successfully pressured the Australian Government to support the waiver after months of hesitation. Now, campaigners and activists are calling on the Government to formally sponsor the proposal at upcoming WTO meeting on the TRIPS proposal on October 13 and 14.

Currently, only 2.3% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose, and globally the death toll from the virus has risen to more than 5 million people since the pandemic begun. This is a global disgrace that cannot be addressed by donation schemes alone, but can only be addressed by increasing global supply though increased production based on waiving monopoly controls.