Equal access to COVID-19 vaccines

Why we need to end monopolies NOW

COVID-19 has claimed more than 5 million lives since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s critical that we do everything possible to speed up access to lifesaving medical tools. 

Since October 2020, a global movement to make COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, tests and other medical tools more accessible worldwide has grown. Now, more than 100 countries support the TRIPS Waiver, while just a handful of wealthy countries continue to block it.  

Our current response to the pandemic—mass vaccination—offers significant protection. But unless everyone, everywhere receives this protection, the virus will continue to spread and mutate. The pandemic won't be over for anyone until it is over for everyone. 


COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics need to be available for the people who need them most. This will end the pandemic sooner, for everyone.

Today, access to COVID-19 vaccines is limited by political and commercial interests and restricted further by purchase agreements struck by wealthy countries. Monopolies and intellectual property rights are preventing the massive upscaling of production needed to make enough doses. While COVID-19 vaccines have benefitted from substantial public taxpayer money for their development, clinical trials and manufacturing, the funding has not come with any provisos to ensure they are made affordable and available to those who need them most. 

To overcome this pandemic, we need to work globally to ensure that everyone has access to COVID-19 vaccines.

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What can the Australian government do?

Governments in high-income countries need to urgently use their power and influence to help the world turn a corner in this pandemic. MSF is calling on the Australian government to:

  • Immediately donate surplus vaccines that have been manufactured in Australia to the COVAX Facility, a donor-funded initiative by the World Health Organization to help distribute vaccines directly to the ministries of health in low-income countries. 
  • Back a proposal put forward to the World Trade Organization that would stop patents from getting in the way of production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines, treatments, diagnostics and personal protective equipment.  
  • Request that the pharmaceutical corporations responsible share mRNA vaccine technologies with prospective manufacturers in countries that need urgent access to COVID-19 vaccines.

“Despite grand promises from world leaders to help vaccinate the world, rich countries like Australia continue to hold excess doses of COVID-19 vaccines. We’re calling on the Australian government to redistribute their excess doses to COVAX—a global initiative working to ensure vaccines are available equitably worldwide.” 

Jennifer Tierney
Executive Director, MSF Australia
Why are vaccines important?

Vaccination is one of the most effective ways of preventing deadly diseases. And yet getting vaccines to where they're needed can be difficult. High vaccine prices, import restrictions, logistical issues, and challenging vaccination schedules are some of the reasons why people miss out on being fully vaccinated. Approximately 1.5 million children die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases. Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams vaccinate millions of people every year, either as part of routine vaccination, or in response to an outbreak of disease.

Why is MSF calling for equal access to COVID-19 vaccines?

MSF has seen firsthand the unnecessary suffering caused by exorbitant drug prices, and other barriers that stop people getting the treatment they need. MSF has watched the pharmaceutical industry consistently put profit over people. We’ve seen this in the fight to get fair and affordable pricing on drugs for pneumonia, tuberculosis and HIV. We also see it in the lack of drugs for neglected tropical diseases simply because the people most affected cannot afford to pay the price drug companies demand. 

If COVID-19 medical tools like vaccines and treatments become a privilege for only the small number of people who can afford them, this will prolong the pandemic. To ensure equitable access, companies must give up their patents and monopolies in order to expand generic production, which in turn lowers the cost and allows for mass production. Failing that, governments can and should be prepared to suspend and override patents during this pandemic to ensure availability, reduce prices and save more lives. 

Why should you care about this?

We know if there is one person left with COVID-19, it is a threat to all of us. This pandemic is simply not over until it’s over for everyone. 

Who is missing out?

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, there was overwhelming consensus among leaders from across the globe about the urgent need for international collaboration. But the reality is, leaders of wealthy countries have deepened the divide with poorer countries by locking up vaccines for their own populations. 

What we're calling for

Past experiences have shown that limited supply, nationalistic control and high prices can result in barriers to access. To ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are treated as ‘global public goods,’ MSF is demanding the following from governments and pharmaceutical corporations:

  • Increased global supply. As many competent vaccine manufacturers as possible should be able to produce vaccines to ensure sufficient global supply. Pharma must temporarily waive the obligations of intellectual property during the COVID-19 pandemic so that other manufacturers can also produce the vaccines to meet demand. 
  • Affordability. They must be sold at cost and no pharmaceutical corporation should seek to profiteer off this pandemic. Despite a handful of companies, including AstraZeneca, promising to sell COVID-19 vaccines at a ‘no-profit’ price during the pandemic, no company has yet shared their costs around research and development, clinical trials or manufacturing.  
  • Transparency. Governments must demand pharma open their books so that the public can see what’s in these deals, demand affordable prices and scrutinise critical safety and efficacy data.

Now is the time for Australia to show commitment to the global community by ensuring that any vaccine or treatment developed during this pandemic is available and accessible to all who need it. The reality is the pandemic isn’t over until it’s over for everyone.

Jennifer Tierney
Executive Director of MSF Australia

The power of mRNA vaccines

The COVID-19 pandemic race to develop new vaccines has brought with it the introduction of revolutionary new technology: mRNA-based vaccines. Not only are mRNA vaccines effective and easy to modify, they are relatively simpler, faster and cheaper to manufacture than traditional vaccines. These types of vaccines can also be produced by manufacturers who don’t have vaccine-specific production experience, like injectable medicines manufacturers.

Increasing access to these vaccines can improve our ability to protect people against COVID-19. The mRNA technology can also be adapted to target other pathogens, meaning the same platform can be used to produce different vaccines or treatments in the future. Building capacity to produce mRNA vaccines within a region may offer benefits for regional public health beyond the current pandemic. 




How are MSF projects affected by the inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines?

The coronavirus pandemic requires a global response. The World Health Organization has issued an equitable allocation framework to provide guidance on the allocation of COVID-19 vaccines and the prioritisation of high-risk groups for vaccination where supply is limited. Health workers in many low-income countries do not know if or when they will be receiving the vaccine. 

“We urge governments who have secured more doses than they need for vaccinating their high-risk groups to urgently share their doses, so that other countries can start vaccinating. This is a global pandemic that requires a global spirit of solidarity if we truly hope to bring it under control,” said Christine Jamet, MSF director of operations. 

“People in the poorest countries seem to be at the back of the line to access these crucial vaccines,” Jamet said.



How can I help?

You can support our campaign for equal access by:
  • Sharing our vaccine access news and stories with your friends on social media
  • Subscribing to our eNewsletter to keep up with the latest on our campaign for equal access to COVID-19 vaccines



Our fight for equal access is far from over. We’ll continue calling on governments and pharmaceutical companies to do the right thing in making COVID-19 vaccines and treatments available to everyone.