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Equal Access to COVID-19 Vaccines

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Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is urging the Australian government to back a landmark proposal that would prevent patents and monopolies from limiting production and affordable access for COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and diagnostics – but we need your support.

Many of the COVID-19 vaccines and treatments currently being developed have been supported with public funding for research. Despite this, pharmaceutical companies are now seeking to patent and restrict the availability of vaccines and treatments to control price and production, putting profits ahead of people.

In a ground-breaking move, India and South Africa are legally challenging the status quo and asking all countries to join them in seeking a temporary waiver to suspend ALL patents on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments until global herd immunity is reached.

The Australian government says they don’t believe that patents stop access to vaccines and that vaccines paid for by rich countries will be enough to cover global needs. However as a medical humanitarian organisation, MSF has seen how people in low-income countries so often get left behind, and during this pandemic are unlikely to have speedy access to safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, wealthy countries including Australia, representing only 13% of the global population, have already locked up at least half of the doses of the world’s five leading potential vaccines.

It’s time for Australia to show true global solidarity and join the 100+ countries supporting the waiver that puts human lives over corporate profits at this critical moment for global health. The clock is ticking because the temporary waiver will be discussed at the World Trade Organization’s General Council meeting on 17 December.

Add your voice by emailing Health Minister Greg Hunt, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne.

Click on the button below to prefill an email – you can edit to include why you personally support this initiative.

Alternatively, you can copy and paste the text below, and send to [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]

Subject: I support MSF’s call for a waiver from certain provisions under the TRIPS agreement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To the Hon: Marise Payne, the Hon Simon Birmingham and the Hon Greg Hunt

Médecins Sans Frontières is calling on the Australian government to support the adoption of the proposal for a temporary ‘Waiver from certain provisions of the TRIPS Agreement for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19’ (Waiver proposal) at the TRIPS Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

When COVID-19 was declared to be a pandemic, there was overwhelming consensus amongst States around the urgent need for international collaboration to speed up product development, scale up manufacturing, expand the supply of effective medical technologies and ensure everyone, everywhere is protected from its impact. Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated at the UN General Assembly’s 75th Anniversary in September that anyone choosing to profiteer during the pandemic would be severely judged and that it was a: “global responsibility, and a moral responsibility, for a vaccine to be shared far and wide.”

Despite the pressing needs and consensus, a shortage of supply of COVID-19 medical tools continues to occur while pharmaceutical companies at large, continue to pursue a ‘business-as-usual’ approach to intellectual property, limiting manufacturing and supply capacities.

The proposed waiver does not overhaul the TRIPS agreement or pose a threat to the IP system but instead leaves it intact by providing the possibility for countries to temporarily opt out of certain obligations until global herd immunity against COVID-19 is reached. Australia can support the waiver and stand in solidarity with the rest of the world without applying or using the waiver itself, if it wishes. If Australia does not support this waiver, it stands directly in the way of other countries’ ability to save their citizen’s lives.

We therefore call on the Australian government to reconsider Australia’s position and support this landmark Waiver proposal, which is due to be discussed at the WTO’s General Council on December 17th.

Sincerely, 

[Your name]

This bold step by governments offers the world a chance to avoid repeating the tragedy of the HIV/AIDS epidemic 20 years ago, when monopolies on lifesaving treatments saw people in high-income countries get access to HIV medicines while millions in developing countries were left to die.

While global health bodies such as the World Health Organisation and GAVI the Vaccine Alliance have set up COVAX: the Covid-19 Vaccine Allocation Plan to counter the threat of ‘vaccine nationalism’ and ensure a fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, the fact remains that the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines is likely to be far short of what is needed. It will continue to be constrained by limited manufacturing capacity and countries hoarding doses.

Wealthy countries, including Australia, representing only 13% of the global population, have already locked up at least half of the doses of the world’s five leading potential vaccines. Australia has also struck a deal to be able to start manufacturing vaccines here, enough to cover all Australians as well as for neighbouring countries in the Pacific. While this is reassuring for us lucky Australians, what about the rest of the world?