Health experts call out Morrison govt for blocking fair global access to COVID-19 vaccines

April 29, 2021: Over 700 Australian health care professionals and academics, supported by Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Public Health Association of Australia, have called on the Australian government to support South Africa and India’s proposal in the World Trade Organisation for fair global access to COVID-19 vaccines. The WTO meets again on April 30 to discuss the proposal.

Dr Deborah Gleeson of the PHAA emphasised that the main way to provide urgently needed vaccines is by boosting production through diversifying beyond the current pharmaceutical companies. The World Health Organisation also supports the proposal to suspend intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines and equipment during the pandemic. The pharmaceutical industry adamantly opposes it.

The Australian government claims it has not tried to block the South African and Indian proposal, which has been on the table since October last year, but MSF’s Australian director, Simon Eccleshall told the Sydney Morning Herald that the latest Australian position – that the common law implications of a suspension of intellectual property rules during the pandemic should be studied – amounts to further delaying any decision.

High-income countries including Australia, have now purchased 4.7 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines, compared to 770 million doses purchased by low-income countries. This will delay access for most people in these countries until 2023 and risk the emergence of new variants of the coronavirus.