Community groups disappointed that Australia opposed proposals at WTO to make vaccines cheaper

MEDIA RELEASE                                                                                               

October 26, 2020

“It is disappointing that Australia reportedly opposed proposals from India and South Africa to make COVID-19 treatments and vaccines more affordable and available to low-income countries at the World Trade Organisation Council on the Trade-related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement on October 16,” AFTINET Convener Dr Patricia Ranald said today.

Many low-income countries supported the proposal, but there was opposition from high income countries which host global pharmaceutical companies. Further consideration of the proposals has been postponed until January 2021.

“WTO rules give pharmaceutical companies 20 years of patent monopolies to charge high prices on new medicines and vaccines, with some exceptions for low income countries. The exceptions are difficult to use and pharmaceutical companies have lobbied to retain their monopolies during the pandemic, meaning that governments have to negotiate with them about prices for COVID-19 vaccines,” explained Dr Ranald.

“India and South Africa proposed that the WTO TRIPs Council agree to waive some patent rules to enable international collaboration to speed up product development, scale up of manufacturing, expand the supply of effective medical technologies and ensure equal access for all countries.”

Dr Ranald said that 408 civil society organisations from around the world sent an open letter to the WTO stating that “many developing and least developed countries struggling to contain COVID-19 have experienced and are facing acute shortages of medical products, including access to diagnostic testing. Furthermore, wealthy nations representing only 13 per cent of the global population have locked up at least half the doses of the world’s five leading potential vaccines.”

The letter went on to urge the WTO to support “an expedited, open and automatic global solution to allow uninterrupted collaboration in development, production and supply, and to collectively address the global challenge facing all countries. It’s time for governments to take collective responsibility and put people’s lives before corporate monopolies.”

Prominent global health experts also supported the South African and Indian proposals. These include Marisol Touraine, Chair of the Unitaid Executive Board and former French Minister of Health, Leena Menghaney, South Asia Head of Médecins Sans Frontières’ Access Campaign, and Dr Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative.