In November 2021, St Columbans Mission Society Peace, Ecology and Justice Office, as a member of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET), endorsed the Network’s letter to the government’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Mr Dan Tehan, in support of an intellectual property waiver on COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments. Since then, a document has been published proposing a compromise on the intellectual property waiver reached between the United States (US), the European Union (EU), South Africa and India at the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
On March 22, 2022, Dr Patricia Ranald, Convenor of AFTINET, wrote a further letter (below) to Mr Tehan concerning an intellectual property waiver on COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments, as well as the aforementioned document. St Columbans Mission Society Peace, Ecology and Justice Office once again endorses this further letter from AFTINET.
In her letter, Dr Ranald says, “In our view, the document is a small step forward, in the sense that it acknowledges that some WTO patent rules need to change. However, we do not believe it will address the inequity resulting in only 4% of people in low-income countries having had two vaccine doses and even less access to treatments and tests.
The proposal is limited to vaccines, only includes patents and not other forms of intellectual property which are essential to expand production, and excludes many countries, including potentially a large number of developing countries that most need to utilise it.”
Treatments and tests are essential for managing this stage of the pandemic but remain protected by patents and other WTO intellectual property rules. However, in the compromise proposal, treatments and tests will only be considered after another six months’ delay. This could mean another lengthy negotiation period with even further delays. This would be especially damaging to Pacific Island countries, who are facing the Omicron variants of the pandemic with adequate access to vaccines, treatments, tests and equipment.”
In her letter to Mr Tehan, Dr Ranald concludes, “In the longer term, the Australian government should support WHO proposals that vaccines, treatments and other pandemic-related products should be treated as global public goods available to all. This will be part of the process to draft and negotiate a convention, agreement or other international instrument under the Constitution of the World Health Organization to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.”
Columban Fr Kevin O’Neill is a member of the Columban Peace, Ecology and Justice team, Columban Mission Centre, Essendon.