Sydney 6 May 2021: Médecins Sans Frontierès/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) applauds the US Government’s decision to support waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines. Doing so will increase sufficient and timely access to these lifesaving medical tools as COVID-19 continues to ravage countries across the globe. Now, it’s time for Australia to stand on the right side of history and follow suit.
The decision by the US government is an important step towards global support for a World Trade Organization (WTO) waiver on intellectual property (IP). This could provide countries with new options to address the limitations of existing WTO rules and remove legal uncertainties and barriers that may impede production and supply of COVID-19 medical products in advance. Throughout the seven months of negotiations at the WTO, MSF has been calling for the waiving of IP for all COVID-19 products, including vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics.
Many of the low-income countries in which MSF operates have only received 0.3 per cent of global COVID-19 vaccine supply while Australia has reserved enough doses to protect its entire population nearly three times over. Shortages of diagnostics, treatments, and other lifesaving medical tools continue to add pressure to countries such as India and Brazil where the surging of COVID-19 cases has pushed health systems to the brink of collapse.
The US government's decision to support the waiving of intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines during this time of unprecedented global need is very welcome. However, it is crucial that the waiver not just apply to preventative vaccines, but it should also cover other medical tools for COVID-19, including treatments for people who fall ill and diagnostics to help curb the spread, as originally proposed seven months ago.
“Australia is one of just a handful of countries that has refused to support this landmark proposal. In fact, it has been actively stalling negotiations. This must change. Our nearest neighbour New Zealand has just announced their support and intention to work actively with partners to progress the waiver approval, Australia is being left behind at this critical moment.”
This decision, by the US government, will help address historic and extraordinary global health challenges and increase equitable access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. The longer it takes to vaccinate everyone in the world, the greater the risk, as new variants have more opportunity to take hold.
While this decision means other manufacturers will have the information they need from pharmaceutical corporations—and the legal permission—to help scale up global supply and get more shots into the arms of people everywhere, this won’t happen immediately.
For the remaining countries that continue to oppose the WTO waiver, including Australia, European Union countries, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, Japan, and Brazil they must drop their objections and put people’s health before pharmaceutical profits, and waive IP on all COVID-19 medical tools, including vaccines.