September 27, 2021: Trade justice and public health activists expressed disappointment at the outcomes of last week’s Biden Vaccine Summit held on September 22 and the Quad meeting of the US, India, Japan and Australia held on September 24.
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.
Media Release September 22, 2021
National public health, church, union, human rights, aid and development and environment organisations today called on the Prime Minister to support the proposal to waive WTO rules for vaccine monopolies in global talks this week, and show its support by becoming a formal sponsor.
September 16, 2021: The People’s Vaccine Alliance* has lashed Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer for cashing in thanks to taxpayer investments, monopolies, and low taxes, while leaving millions unprotected, on the eve of major global meetings on the COVID-19 pandemic.
September 15, 2021: MSF organsied this information forum on the temporary waiver on monopolies for COVID-19 products, featuring
September 14, 2021: After months of holding out, Australia has at last joined other members of the World Trade Organisation in backing a waiver of patents and other intellectual property rights on vaccines, treatments, diagnostic tests and devices needed to fight COVID-19.
Latrobe University Associate Professor in Public Health, Dr Deborah Gleeson, explains why Australia should now take action in The Conversation today.
14 September 2021
September 10, 2021: More than 50,000 Australians signed petitions demanding the Australian Government put people before profits and support a temporary waiver on World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules that give pharmaceutical companies 20-year monopolies for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.
And we won! Thanks to our collective efforts, Minister Tehan said last week he supports the waiver!. But now we need to make sure he delivers on that promise in WTO meetings that begin this week. You can send a message to the Trade Minister here.
September 9, 2021: After months of campaigning a coalition of national civil society organisations were invited to meet with Trade Minister Dan Tehan on September 7 and presented him with evidence that under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules a few companies have a 20-year monopoly on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments and low-income countries will not get widespread access for several years.
September 6, 2021: Under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, a few pharmaceutical companies have 20-year monopoly patents on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, and each government must negotiate with them on prices and quantities. Rich countries are first in line, but even Australia is experiencing delays. Low-income countries must wait years while the pandemic rages, more infectious strains like Delta develop, and millions more die.