22 Apr 2021

Will NZ support a vaccine intellectual property rights waiver?

8:30 pm on 22 April 2021

The New Zealand Government says it is involved in World Trade Organisation discussion about a proposed waiver of intellectual property rights around vaccines.

Covid-19 vaccination in Fiji.

Covid-19 vaccination in Fiji. Photo: Fiji govt

More than 100 countries, led by India and South Africa, have called for a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights to enable increased production, affordability and access to Covid-19 vaccines.

New Zealand is among the countries who haven not yet added its voice to the call. So too is the United States, whose president Joe Biden has been petitioned by heads of state and Nobel laureates to support it.

Those supporting the call to World Trade Organisation (WTO) members argue that the world's main vaccine suppliers should share their knowledge so that more countries can start producing vaccines for their own populations.

Otherwise, it is feared that it could be another two years before a significant proportion of people in the lowest-income countries are vaccinated, prolonging the pandemic.

A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said the government welcomed, and was closely involved in, the ongoing discussion about this within the WTO.

She said it was important to explore all options for increasing global supply of current and future vaccines.

"That is also why we have committed $NZ65 million to support vaccine access and delivery in the Pacific and contributed $NZ17m to the Covax Advance Market Commitment to support vaccine access for developing countries, including in the Pacific.

"We also support WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's efforts to broaden the WTO's role in global vaccine supply."

The spokesperson said New Zealand hoped that WTO collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO), manufacturers and developers will help address the immediate manufacturing capacity issue, as well as progress the waiver discussion.

Pacific focus for NZ's extra doses

Last week, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the country was donating more than 1.6 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines to developing countries with a focus on the Pacific.

Confirming the donation through the global Covax facility, Ardern said dose-sharing could help the international community make the best use of available vaccines.

In addition to the $NZ17m contribution, New Zealand would also donate enough vaccines for more than 800,000 people, the prime minister explained.

"These doses are fully funded, and will increase the number of doses available to developing countries," she said, adding that where a country had extra vaccine doses, Covax provided an equitable way to share doses internationally.

"We hope that this contribution will help us to achieve greater population coverage globally, including in the Pacific region."

First batch of AstraZeneca/Oxford coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines, are being unloaded from a plane upon arrival at Khartoum International Airport.

A batch of coronavirus vaccine doses provided under the global Covax facility being unloaded from an airplane. Photo: 2021 Anadolu Agency

The spokesperson at the ministry said contractual details with Covax were being finalised, so the government hoped to see the doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine being offered soon.

Vaccine rollouts in the Pacific are to feature in discussions between New Zealand Minister for Pacific Peoples Aupito William Sio and his Australian counterpart Senator Zed Seselja scheduled for tomorrow in Auckland.

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