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A researcher holds a syringe over test vials.

A researcher holds a vaccine syringe above test vials. (Photo: Stockphotokun/Flickr/cc)

Applause as Australia Backs Covid Vaccine Patent Waiver

"Australia's support for a waiver puts the WTO in a strong position to make progress at next week's TRIPS council meeting," said Global Justice Now.

Julia Conley

Vaccine equity advocates on Wednesday cheered as the Australian government bowed to a months-long pressure campaign demanding a suspension of intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines, after the country's top trade official said he officially supports the push for a "people's vaccine."
Trade Minister Dan Tehan told a group of advocates in a private meeting on Tuesday that the Australian government would support a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver proposal, and later confirmed the news to the press.

"The British and German governments have no allies or excuses left. They must stop obstructing efforts to waive patents so that we can finally vaccinate the world."
—Nick Dearden, Global Justice Now 

"Well, we have always said we will support a TRIPS waiver when it came to Covid-19," Tehan said, according to ABC News in Australia. "We continue to work constructively in Geneva to do everything we can to expand the production of vaccines globally because we need everyone across the globe to get access to a vaccine ultimately if we are to be safe."
Officials in Australia have spent months avoiding expressing clear support for a TRIPS waiver, which would allow countries in the Global South to develop generic versions of the vaccines produced by companies including Pfizer and Moderna. 
In June, Tehan told reporters that Australia was "not opposed" to a waiver and was "prepared to look at a vaccine waiver," which was first proposed in October 2020 by officials in South Africa and India. 
The clear support expressed this week, days before a meeting of the World Trade Organization's TRIPS Council, is evidence that "the tide is turning in the battle against global vaccine inequality," said British advocacy group Global Justice Now.

"Australia's support for a waiver puts the WTO in a strong position to make progress at next week's TRIPS council meeting," said Nick Dearden, director of the organization. 

Advocates in Australia urged Tehan to follow his remarks with decisive action at next week's meeting. 

"We urge the government to act by expressing unequivocal public support in meeting with the Indian government and at the WTO TRIPS council meeting on September 14," Patricia Ranald, convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, told ABC News.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced in May that he would support waiving intellectual property rights for the vaccines to ensure people in developing countries can be inoculated—protecting those populations and the entire world, as low levels of vaccination in the Global South have allowed numerous variants of Covid-19 to spread. 

More than 100 other nations including France have also backed a TRIPS waiver, leaving Germany and the United Kingdom as the most powerful nations standing in the way of global vaccine equity and a speedier end to the pandemic. 

"The British and German governments have no allies or excuses left," said Dearden. "They must stop obstructing efforts to waive patents so that we can finally vaccinate the world."

Australia has fully vaccinated over 40% of its population, according to an analysis by Reuters. More than 80% of vaccine doses have been administered in wealthy countries, while 0.4% have been given in low-income countries. 

Sophie McNeill, Australia researcher for Human Rights Watch, credited advocates with pressuring the country into supporting the TRIPS waiver. 

"Now we need firm action from Australia at the WTO," said McNeill.

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