Push to put people’s lives ahead of pandemic profiteering

11 March 2021

This day one year ago the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

And yet more than 85 developing nations will not have widespread access to COVID-19 vaccines until 2023, because of intellectual property laws that prevent the production of cheaper versions of new medicines – a ‘catastrophic moral failure’ according to the WHO.

The ACTU has joined the ANMF and Australian civil society organisations in urging the Australian Government to support a proposal put forward by the governments of India and South Africa, that would waive some provisions of these intellectual property laws to allow the production of COVID-19 vaccines to be ramped up and made accessible and affordable to all.

ANMF (SA Branch) nurse Tanya Newell featured in a YouTube video released globally last month, urging world leaders to support a waiver on patents for COVID-19 vaccines.

The video was released by Public Services International (PSI), a global union federation of workers in public services, and features nurses from around the world calling on people to demand our leaders act now on waivers.

The waiver proposed by India and South Africa will be discussed at the WTO TRIPS Council formal meeting today. The waiver would last for the duration of the pandemic and cover medicines and vaccines, as well as technologies such as masks and ventilators.

Large pharmaceutical companies are set to profit hugely from the pandemic, with patents allowing them to have the monopoly on vaccine production for two decades.

Organisations like the Australian Council for International Development, the Public Health Association of Australia, Oxfam Australia and The Salvation Army Australia, among others, have also joined the ACTU’s call.

The pandemic has highlighted the world’s stark social and health inequities. It has also shown that no one is safe unless everyone is safe, and that to overcome the pandemic global solidarity and cooperation is required, not greed.

“Big Pharma are profiting massively while frontline workers and high-risk people in developing nations suffer because of outdated intellectual property laws that are no longer fit-for-purpose,’’ said ACTU president Michele O’Neil.

“What’s needed in the face of this pandemic is global solidarity – Australia has a duty to support developing countries to protect their people from this virus and save as many lives as possible.

“The Morrison Government should value people’s health and wellbeing over putting more money in the hands of Big Pharma,’’ Ms O’Neil said.

“It’s vital that we focus global efforts on vaccinating everyone as soon as possible to stop further outbreaks – no-one is safe until we’re all safe.

“100 countries around the world support this proposal to suspend intellectual property rights on COVID vaccines. It’s time Australia does too.”

View the YouTube video below: