Health experts warn global COVID vaccine inequity persists as Australia has surplus of millions

July 18, 2022: The ABC reports that over the last two years, the  Federal government purchased 255 million vaccines from four pharmaceutical companies, with 60 million administered around the country, and roughly 40 million doses donated around the Indo-Pacific region. Even with the expected increased uptake of third and fourth doses over winter, Australia may have a surplus of over 100 million doses, some of which are due to expire.

While double vaccination rates in Australia and other rich countries are over 90%, less than 20% of people in low-income countries have received one dose.

The government is looking at options to distribute its surplus and has appointed Jane Halton to conduct a review of the government’s existing vaccine contracts.

La Trobe University Associate Professor Deborah Gleeson said that "Australia really participated in a bigger trend that we've seen worldwide of wealthy countries buying up far more doses of COVID-19 vaccines than they needed early on in the pandemic." 

She said that Australia and other countries should learn from previous mistakes in distributing vaccines to low income countries. “They need to be a long way from their expiry date, they should be a mix of brands, and they should come with support to administer them.

“We really need to think about the distribution of vaccines around the world in a much more systematic way, rather than just exporting excess doses to countries that will have difficulty using them at short notice," she said.

Professor Gleeson and other advocates have also supported a waiver of World Trade Organisation  rules on intellectual property monopolies held by pharmaceutical companies so that production and distribution of vaccines and COVID-19 treatments can take place in developing countries at affordable prices. The recent WTO decision on patents on vaccines but not other COVID-related monopolies falls short of a full waiver on monopolies for vaccines and treatments, and governments must do more to address global inequitable access. 

Professor Gleeson has argued in a Conversation article that Australia needs to take four actions to address global vaccine inequity:

  • produce, donate, redistribute and fund more COVID vaccines for low-income countries.
  • support global initiatives to waive intellectual property rights in meaningful ways that enable low- and middle-income countries to manufacture COVID products.
  • provide funds and practical help to build production capacity in low-income countries.
  • ensure companies developing vaccines in Australia share their intellectual property and know-how to enable more widespread manufacturing. This can be achieved by placing conditions on public funding invested in research and development.

See the full ABC report here

See the Conversation article here