WHO treaty for future pandemics may include sharing vaccine knowledge but will be too slow, and too late for COVID-19

December 7, 2021:The World Health Organisation (WHO) treaty for handling future pandemics initiated last week should include waiving rules on vaccine monopolies and sharing knowledge to enable developing countries to produce their own vaccines, but the timetable is too slow and too late to save lives in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The treaty aims to learn from the mistakes and lack of preparation for the COVID-19 pandemic, by producing an agreed global cooperation framework, including sharing knowledge to maximise global production of vaccines and other pandemic-related products, as the WHO has consistently advocated during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the treaty will not be completed until 2024.

Helen Clark, former New Zealand Prime minister and co-chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness, who has advocated for the waiver on COVID -19 vaccines, said that the timetable is too slow.

“Given that another pandemic threat could emerge at any time, the sooner the gaps in the international framework can be filled, the better”, Clark said. Clark has previously said the world could negotiate a treaty in six months as occurred after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

Jane Halton, chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, who has not previously supported a waiver on WTO rules, acknowledged the treaty must spell out “when and how you might access intellectual property.” But she said  the treaty “ must balance the incentive to invest” for pharmaceutical companies.

AFTINET believes such a treaty is needed for future pandemics, and welcomes the acknowledgement that it needs to address vaccine monopolies. But this should not detract from the urgency to address now the current lack of access to COVID -19 vaccines in developing countries by waiving WTO monopolies on vaccines and other COVID-related products. Millions are dying while new variants like Omicron develop in low-income countries with low vaccination rates. We need to keep up the pressure on the pharmaceutical companies and the Australian and other WTO member governments to waive the monopolies now.