Australian government exposed for stalling COVID-19 vaccine supply while Big Pharma makes super profits

August 23, 2021: An extensive report in The Saturday Paper exposes that the Morrison government is stalling on the proposal for a temporary waiver of 20-year monopoly patent rights on COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

The waiver would enable expansion of production at affordable prices in countries like India and South Africa which are large producers of generic medicines. Experts interviewed in the report say that the Australian government’s failure to support the waiver is influenced by Pfizer and other pharmaceutical companies who are reaping super profits from their monopolies on vaccines the pandemic.

Australia is one of just seven WTO member countries blocking the waiver. The others are the United Kingdom, Brazil, Japan, Norway, Switzerland and the European Union. The WTO works by consensus, so even one country can veto a proposal supported by the other 163 Member States.

More than 38,000 people in South East Asia have died from COVID-19 in the two week to August 21, 2021. Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand are facing their worst outbreaks so far in the pandemic, and have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the world. While the Morrison government has donated AstraZeneca doses in the region, the numbers are tiny compared to the need.

On August 16, 2021, BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) published a counter-argument to the Pfizer case against the patent suspension, written by Fatima Hassan, director of Global Witness and based in South Africa, and Gavin Yamey, professor of global health and public policy at Duke University, Canada.

The authors document the super profits of Pfizer and other companies and argues that “pandemic profiteering is, in our view, a human rights violation that demands investigation and scrutiny.

“Vaccine preventable deaths and illness are occurring across Africa, Asia, and Latin America at an unprecedented speed and scale.”

“Let us be clear what is causing these deaths: a free market, profit driven enterprise based on patent and intellectual property protection, combined with a lack of political will. Contrary to claims, it is possible to make enough vaccines for the world”.

The World Health Organisation has supported the COVID-19 patent suspension since it was put forward in October 2020. Its director general, Dr Tedros, called global vaccine inequity “grotesque,” a recipe for seeding viral variants capable of escaping vaccines, and a “moral outrage”.