US supports suspension of COVID-19 vaccine patents, so should Australia

Media Release, May 6, 2021   “We welcome today’s announcement by the United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai that the US now supports waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines,” said Dr Patricia Ranald, AFTINET Convenor..

“We also welcome the subsequent statement of support from the New Zealand Trade Minister,” said Dr Ranald. “It is now time for the Morrison government to do the same”.

“This is a major breakthrough, driven by determined civil society campaigning in the USA and globally, and should result in temporary changes to World Trade Organisation rules as soon as possible,” said Dr Ranald.

Under current rules pharmaceutical companies have 20-year monopoly patents and control the global production of vaccines, and governments must negotiate with them. Rich countries are first in line, and most people in low-income countries will not receive vaccines until 2023.

On October 10 last year South Africa and India initiated the call for the temporary suspension of WTO intellectual property rules for treatments, equipment and vaccines, to enable the maximum global production and distribution of these items at affordable prices.

The pharmaceutical industry and the governments which support it – the USA, European Union, UK, Japan, Switzerland, Brazil, Norway, Australia – blocked the proposal, while the pandemic has accelerated with devastating impacts.

According to a Bloomberg report, at a WTO meeting on May 5, 2021, India and South Africa agreed to revise their proposal, to present to members for a meeting tentatively scheduled for the second half of May. The US proposal would apply only to vaccines.

“We hope that the WTO discussion can also extend to treatments and medical equipment needed to address the pandemic,” said Dr Ranald.