Support grows for a “People’s Vaccine”
The US responds to calls for a WTO waiver on vaccine intellectual property rights as concerns mount over vaccine access and inoculation in low- and middle-income countries.
The United States has agreed to support a waiver on vaccine patents for the duration of the COVID pandemic. The World Health Organization says this is a major step towards global equity in the distribution of the vaccines.
More than 170 former political leaders and Nobel laureates had previously put their names to a joint letter calling on the US to support the waiver.
The signatories to the letter said they were “gravely concerned by the slow progress in scaling up global COVID-19 vaccine access and inoculation in low- and middle-income countries”.
“A WTO waiver is a vital and necessary step to bringing an end to this pandemic. It must be combined with ensuring that vaccine know-how and technology is shared openly. This will save lives and advance us toward global herd immunity,” the letter said.
“These actions would expand global manufacturing capacity, unhindered by industry mono polies that are driving the dire supply shortages and blocking vaccine access.”
The leaders called for “robust international health architecture”.
“If the past year has taught us anything, it is that threats to public health are global, and that strategic government investment, action, cooperation, and solidarity are vital. The market cannot adequately meet these challenges, and neither can narrow nationalism.”
The slow rollout to low-income countries has been worsened by the COVID crisis in India. India produces 70 per cent of the world’s vaccines.
The Serum Institute of India was given the rights to the AstraZeneca vaccine for 64 low-income countries as part of the World Health Organization’s Covax program.
Exports of the vaccine to these countries has been postponed or called off as India sinks under the catastrophe of its second wave.
… but again, Australia aligns with the pariahs
Despite growing momentum for a WTO waiver, it could be sabotaged by a small number of countries – including Australia.
Australia, the UK, the European Union, Switzerland, Japan, Brazil and Norway continue to withhold support for the campaign.
The ACTU, health unions and public health organisations have called on the Australian Government to support the waiver at the WTO.
“The Morrison government is brazenly putting the profit of multinational pharmaceutical companies ahead of the safety of millions of people who need medicines and vaccines,” said ACTU President, Michele O’Neil.
“This government has not only presided over a botched rollout of the COVID vaccine in Australia, but is now preventing the widespread access to the COVID vaccine in developing countries by not supporting this waiver.”
The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA), Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF), Public Services International (PSI), the ANMF and the NSWNMA also support the campaign.