September 15, 2022: The first known Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) claim concerning COVID-19 pandemic-related regulation was registered by French airport operating companies ADP International and Vinci Airports in August 2021 against Chile. The companies are arguing that Chile’s decision to close its borders during the height of the pandemic cost them US$37 million.
COVID-19 Pandemic and medicine monopolies
COVID pandemic exposed how medicine monopolies delayed access to vaccines and treatments
During the COVID pandemic 2020-22, AFTINET campaigned on the issue of access to pandemic-related medicines. COVID has demonstrated the limitations of the global health system and the Intellectual WTO Property (IP) regime that shaped the global response to the pandemic. IP rules gave a few pharmaceutical companies twenty-year patents on new COVID vaccines, which meant they controlled both the quantity and prices. Most vaccines were sold to high-income countries at high prices. This resulted in long delays in access to vaccines for low and low-middle income countries leading to lower vaccination rates. There was even less access to treatments when they became available.
Developing countries in October 2020 proposed a temporary waiver of WTO IP rules to share intellectual property and enable global production of more vaccines and treatments at affordable prices for low- and middle-income countries. AFTINET worked with a broad coalition of public health, union, aid and development and human rights organisations to generate public support for this proposal and to lobby the Australian government to support it. We commissioned a survey which showed that most Australian supported the temporary waiver and organised a petition with 50,000 signatures, organised rallies exposing pharmaceutical companies’ profiteering, and pressured the government and opposition parties to state publicly that they would support the waiver. However, at the WTO negotiations the government took a neutral stance, trying to broker a compromise between supporters and opponents of the waiver.
The waiver proposal was delayed for over 18 months by rich countries, lobbied by pharmaceutical companies, until the peak of the pandemic was over. The June 2022 WTO Ministerial decision on the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) was a watered-down version of the waiver originally proposed which had little effect and applied only to vaccines. A decision on COVID treatments and other pandemic-related products was postponed and has still not been made.
In early 2022, for every dose of mRNA vaccine delivered to low-income countries, 56 were delivered to rich countries. Vaccination rates in low-income countries were less than 20% by January 2022, and were still only at 32% in September 2023. These delays contributed to the estimated 17.2 million deaths due to COVID, the majority of which were in low- and low-middle income countries.
The World Health Organisation is now negotiating a Pandemic Agreement to apply to future pandemics, which is intended to learn from the mistakes of the COVID pandemic. AFTINET is lobbying the Australian government to support temporary waivers on monopolies and other actions to share intellectual property and technology for all pandemic-related products, to ensure more equitable access for low- and middle-income countries. See our submission below.
- AFTINET submission to the Department of Health and Aged Care on Preparing for, and responding to, future pandemics and other international health emergencies (September 2023)
- Conversation Article: Why the WTO TRIPS Council must extend patents waiver to COVID-19 tests and treatments (December 2022)
- Video: Nurse protests COVID-19 monopolies by applauding pharma CEOs at Davos (May 2022)
- Open letter: 300 civil society organisations to South African and Indian leaders on COVID medicine monopolies (April 2022)
- Oxfam report: Pandemic of Greed (March 2022)
- Guardian Article: Trade rules have thwarted global efforts to fight Covid – the WTO must waive monopolies on vaccines, treatments and tests (February 2022)
- Open Letter to WTO: Access to vaccines, tests and treatments must not be delayed (February 2022)
- MSF report on COVAX scheme (January 2022)
- Civil society open letter to reach an urgent decision to waive monopolies on vaccine (December 2021)
Updated September 2023.
August 16, 2022: Yesterday the Australian and Victorian governments announced a 10 year contract for public funding for pharmaceutical company Moderna to partner with Monash University to produce mRNA vaccines in Australia.
The manufacturing project aims to protect Australians against future pandemics, support local industry and create highly skilled local jobs, all of which are welcome goals. The project follows a separate research initiative of Monash University and the Doherty Institute which is conducting clinical trials for a new generation vaccine designed to protect against the Omicron variant.
MEDIA RELEASE August 9, 2022: National fair trade, public health, human rights and aid and development organisations have written to the Trade Minister and other relevant ministers urging them to take further action to address the continuing shocking global inequity of access to Covid 19 vaccines treatments and other products. While over 80% of people in Australia have had two vaccination, and treatments are now available, only 20% in low income countries have had one vaccination and there is even less access to treatments.
July 18, 2022: The ABC reports that over the last two years, the Federal government purchased 255 million vaccines from four pharmaceutical companies, with 60 million administered around the country, and roughly 40 million doses donated around the Indo-Pacific region. Even with the expected increased uptake of third and fourth doses over winter, Australia may have a surplus of over 100 million doses, some of which are due to expire.
June 22, 2022: Following the weak WTO decision on COVID9 vaccine patents only, AFTINET has warned that the agreement will fail to address global inequities in access to vaccines, tests, and treatments.
Media Release June 17, 2022
After nearly two years of delay, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference has produced a weak decision on COVID-19 medicine monopolies which covers only vaccines, excludes non-patent intellectual property barriers, and contains restrictions which are more onerous than some existing WTO rules. This condemns the world’s most vulnerable people to inequitable access to vaccines and treatments. They will continue to die in greater numbers than those lucky enough to live in high income countries.
June 16, 2022: As the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meets this week to decide on lifting patent monopolies over COVID19 medicines, public health experts have written an analysis in Croakey Health Media examining how Australia support a meaningful outcome at the WTO.
June 16, 2022: AFTINET has joined with more than 220 civil society organisations across the globe to demand the World Trade Organisation (WTO) reject the current negotiating text, which vaccine equity advocates say could set a negative precedent for access to medicines during future pandemics.
June 8, 2022: Ahead of the WTO Ministerial Conference on June 12, our international allies are organising events and actions in support of a waiver on COVID19 monopolies.
6 June, 2022: Civil society groups say a new draft text supported by the EU should be rejected because it covers only vaccines, excluding treatments and tests. It also fails to address all forms of intellectual property, restricts the countries which can make use of it, and has onerous requirements which are worse than existing WTO rules