Make Covid vaccines a public good to ensure that heath needs come first

Contributed by Joe Montero

A major impediment to fighting Covid infection has been that vaccinations have been big business for pharmaceutical companies manufacturing the vaccines. Contracts with government and high prices has meant that many poorer countries can’t afford to vaccinate their populations. This guarantees that the virus will persist, mutate, and keep n spreading around the world. 

If Russia and China, and to an extent Cuba, hadn’t provided many of these countries millions of free vaccines, the situation would be much worse than it has been.

This is simple fact, regardless of one’s view of the politics of these nations, this is simple fact.

Photo by Steve Frances Kong

Pharmaceutical control over vaccine supplies poses a problem for richer countries. Access the range of available options is cut out.

Take Australia. Scott Morrison’s government signed contracts with the makers of AstraZeneca and Pfizer, which gave them monopoly rights through patents, ownership of design and intellectual property. They were allowed to corner the Australian market for vaccine supply and treatment for the next 20 years.

Health needs were compromised for the sake of monopoly super profit.

The Australian government has so far spent a total of $8 billion on vaccinations. And this is with Australia’s small population. Imagine how much the pharmaceutical companies are raking on a global scale.

No wonder the call to turn Covid vaccines into a public good is gaining momentum. This would mean that pharmaceutical companies would no longer be able to impose exclusive control over supply, bid up the price, and block alternatives.

A growing number of governments, often pushed along by the tide of public opinion, are jumping on board. Discussion on removing intellectual property rights over Covid Vaccines was put on the agenda for the today’s (15 September in Australian time) World Trade Organisation (WTO) TRIPS meeting.

Circumstances in Australia have forced some change. The supply failure was party caused by Australia not being a top ranking business priority for the  suppliers This means a breach of contract. Rights originally signed away to them  by the Morrison government should no longer apply.

This and the political fallout from the rollout mess has led to the coming of the Moderna vaccine into Australia. It is a small positive step in broadening the options.

Growing public pressure to improve the government’s image in handing the pandemic led to Trade Minister Dan Tehan has publicly announced that Australia will support the  removal of intellectual property rights on Covid vaccines at the WTO meeting.

Activist organisation GetUp submitted a significant petition to push for this move.

Whether the promise will come to pass remains to be seen.

Ending monopoly control over the vaccinations will save millions of lives around the word, and the livelihoods of many more.

Applying the same to Australia would improve our chances of escaping the grip of the pandemic.

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