Medicines Australia and AusBiotech say COVID-19 vaccine patent waiver will not speed up global vaccination

14 September 2021: Medicines Australia and AusBiotech, the peak bodies representing the Australian innovative pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors, urge the Australian Government not to support a proposed patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines and therapies, as it will not help global vaccination.

The proposed patent waiver at the World Trade Organization (WTO), also known as the TRIPS waiver (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights waiver), is a form of forced technology transfer or compulsory acquisition of intellectual property that would undermine the global vaccination effort rather than strengthen it.

The comments made by Trade Minister Dan Tehan last week were part of a continuing discussion held on that day and do not appear to indicate a change in the Government’s position. Medicines Australia and AusBiotech acknowledge the Australian Government’s determination to play a constructive role in the resolution of this issue, including their recognition that the multilateral intellectual property system critically supports innovation and that patents are not the barrier to vaccine availability.

As previously reported, vaccine manufacturers worldwide are now producing 1.5 billion doses per month, which has been achieved through significant increases in production, supply chain, and voluntary technology transfer agreements across the world. By January 2022, there will be sufficient vaccines produced for every adult on every continent and attention must now be urgently shifted to distribution. All humans should have equitable and timely access to COVID-19 vaccines and the biopharmaceutical industry continues to call for governments to increase dose sharing and remove delivery bottlenecks.

Elizabeth de Somer, CEO of Medicines Australia, and Lorraine Chiroiu, CEO of AusBiotech, have both consistently stated the importance of upholding strong intellectual property protections as the key to innovative vaccines and treatments against COVID-19 and future pandemics. In a joint statement, they both said:

“Since the start of the pandemic, the global biopharmaceutical industry has worked day and night to find solutions to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Our industry collaborates closely with governments, academia and charities around the world to manufacture and distribute safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines. This tremendous collaboration has been enabled – not undermined – by the international intellectual property system. As a result, 3.3 billion people are inoculated, saving countless lives and enabling economies to re-open.”

“Despite this momentous effort, recent figures show that unfortunately, around only 1% of the population in low-income countries have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. While our industry is committed to sharing COVID-19 vaccines quickly and equitably, the proposed patent waiver is a wishful solution to a complex problem. Waiving patents for COVID-19 vaccines and therapies will not address the real challenges to vaccinating the world: eliminating trade barriers, addressing bottlenecks in supply chains, and a greater willingness to share more doses with developing countries.”

“Worryingly, the proposed TRIPS waiver is a forced transfer and acquisition of knowledge and technology, which will undermine the development of safe, effective and quality vaccines. Vaccine manufacturing is highly complex, requires specialist technical equipment and know-how which takes years to build.”

“For example, the Pfizer/ BioNTech mRNA vaccine contains 280 different ingredients sourced from 86 suppliers in 19 different countries. The success of this vaccine relies on highly specialised expertise, advanced customised technical capabilities and strong relationships along numerous supply chains that have been built over decades.”

“If a compulsory acquisition of patents are put into place, there will be serious, long-term impacts, which will dampen the drive for investment into medical research and innovation, placing us in a worse position to tackle new COVID-19 variants and preparation for future health crises.”

“The only way to solve this is through continuing to build robust partnerships backed by a reliable international intellectual property system. Rather than causing more bottlenecks and delays by supporting the TRIPS waiver, we hope that the Australian Government will engage in a pragmatic and constructive dialogue with industry focused on the real barriers to global vaccination.”

Medicines Australia and AusBiotech strongly support the five steps to urgently advance COVID-19 vaccine equity, as outlined by the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations (IFPMA): stepping up dose sharing, optimising production, eliminating trade barriers, supporting country readiness and driving further innovation.


Media contact: Chrystianna Moran
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