Media Release: WTO must fix unjust global access to vaccines, treatments, and tests at meetings this week

February 22, 2022 Media Release: The World Trade Organisations (WTO) this week must seize the opportunity to address the global inequity in COVID19 vaccines, tests and treatments, say vaccine equity advocates. While in Australia debate has focused on the availability of free rapid antigen tests (RATs), globally there is inequitable global access to tests, vaccines and treatments that are critical to protecting people from COVID-19.

In meetings being held in Geneva from February 23, WTO member states will be facing a self-imposed deadline of the end of February to decide on a proposal from India and South Africa supported by over 100 countries. The proposal would temporarily waive WTO rules for intellectual property monopolies on COVID19 vaccines, tests and treatments. 

These monopolies give control of prices and distribution of these products to a few pharmaceutical companies that have sold most vaccines and treatments to rich countries. Rich countries have also been first in line to buy tests. An Amnesty International study published last week showed that only four percent of people living in low-income countries had received two vaccinations by the end of 2021. The latest treatments and rapid tests are also inaccessible in low-income countries.

A temporary waiver on monopolies would enable more vaccines, tests and treatments to be produced and distributed to low-income countries. Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan has claimed support to the waiver proposal, but community groups say the Minister should insist that the waiver cover tests and treatments as well as vaccines.

AFTINET convener Dr Patricia Ranald said: “Millions are dying while WTO members are still debating whether to waive monopolies and make vaccines, treatments and tests available to people in low-income countries. Trade Minister Tehan should actively sponsor proposals to ensure a comprehensive waiver covering tests, treatments and vaccines is agreed this week.” 

ACTU President, Michele O’Neil, said: “Free and accessible vaccines are the best tools we have to stop the spread of this virus, not only here in Australia, but around the world – the Morrison Government must strongly advocate for the TRIPS waiver to cover COVID vaccines and treatments at the WTO.” 

Ry Atkinson, Strategic Campaigner at Amnesty International Australia said: “After two years of the pandemic, just over 4% of the population living in low-income countries are fully vaccinated. Allowing pharmaceutical companies to keep their monopolies during the pandemic is a failed strategy. It is time for governments – including Australia’s – to stop sitting on the side-lines. That means sponsoring the TRIPS waiver and standing up to an industry that has already made billions from this crisis.”

Michelle Higelin, ActionAid Australia Executive Director, said: “We are entering the third year of the pandemic. Wealthy countries have failed to ensure that everyone, no matter where they live, has access to affordable COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. The current vaccine apartheid is having fatal impacts on women living in poverty and other marginalised communities. Australia must show greater global leadership and help lead the passage of the TRIPS waiver without delay.”  

Jennifer Tierney, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Australia Executive Director, said: “Every day, we are witnessing a desperate need for COVID-19 medical tools in the places we work. It’s extraordinary that 17 months after the TRIPS Waiver was first proposed, some governments are still opposing this initiative which could have such a positive impact on how low- and middle-income countries are able to tackle this pandemic. It’s time to do the right thing by the world and accept these medical tools are global public goods.”