New mRNA facility is good news, but Big Pharma must share vaccine knowledge now

December 14, 2021: Prime Minister Scott Morrison has today announced that Australia will produce millions of mRNA vaccines from 2024 through an ‘in-principle’ deal struck between Moderna, the Federal Government, and the Victorian Government to build a local manufacturing facility in the state. 

While the details of the agreement, including financial and intellectual property provisions, remain commercial in confidence, the Government says that the deal will include priority access for Australia to any vaccines made in the country.

Prime Minister Morrison said the facility will produce “respiratory vaccines for potential future pandemics and seasonal health issues.” This means it will not contribute to increased production for the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, vaccine equity advocates have stressed the need for urgent action to expand global capacity for mRNA vaccine production to confront the accelerating Omicron variant, and to allow low-income countries to produce their own vaccines for the current COVID19 pandemic. 

In a statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged countries to adopt a rights-based approach to pandemic responses that ensures “universal access to testing, treatments, and vaccines… through sharing of intellectual property, technology, and knowledge.”

“Intellectual property rules should not act as a barrier to governments fulfilling their human rights obligations to cooperate internationally to share the benefits of scientific research to protect the rights to life, health, and an adequate standard of living...”

The HRW statement concludes with a call to all World Trade Organisation (WTO) member states, including Australia, to adopt the ‘TRIPS waiver’ proposal to lift vaccine patent monopolies by the end of this year, saying: “The WTO can, and must, prioritize engagement on the TRIPS Waiver proposal to enable agreement as soon as possible.”