31 Dec 2020

Govt urged to side with India and South Africa on vaccine access

6:49 pm on 31 December 2020

A citizens campaign group wants New Zealand to support a call by India and South Africa for easier access to Covid vaccines and treatments.

A syringe filled with Covid-19 vaccine ready to be administered. This week Mass General Hospital in the US administered the first of its Covid-19 vaccinations to employees.

Photo: AFP/ Mass General Hospital

The group, It's Our Future, said intellectual property rules were an obstacle to the world's poor accessing Covid vaccines and treatments.

Several developing countries have already asked members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to waive intellectual property rights related to those vaccines, until widespread vaccination was in place globally, and the majority of the world's population had developed immunity.

Earlier in December, WTO failed to agree on a proposal to exempt Covid-19 vaccines from intellectual property rights.

Foreign media reported that, although the plan had the backing of many developing countries, it was firmly opposed by states that hosted pharmaceutical giants.

The European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other developed countries opposed the waiver request.

India and South Africa wanted a waiver to intellectual property rules governing the prevention, containment or treatment of the virus.

It's Our Future said the proposal would make it easier for other countries, particularly in the Global South, to produce their own Covid vaccines (under licence), rather than accept a "profit-oriented pricing structure".

The Global South was one of a family of terms, including Third World and Periphery, that referred to mostly low-income and politically-marginalised regions outside Europe and North America.

It's Our Future spokesperson Edward Miller said the big pharmaceutical companies that controlled the patents had demonstrated time and time again they "were simply too profit-driven to ensure access to life-saving medicines".

The citizens campaign group was formed in opposition to the free trade agreement known formerly as the TPPA, and other pro-corporate treaties.

An undated handout picture released by the University of Oxford on November 23, 2020 shows a technician working at Oxford Vaccine Group on the University's COVID-19 candidate vaccine,

A technician works at Oxford Vaccine Group on the University's Covid-19 candidate vaccine Photo: AFP / University of Oxford

Miller said there were similarities to its opposition to the trans-Pacific trade agreement and what was occurring in this instance, in that it highlighted how restricted access to medicine denied a basic human right.

Miller said they were not suggesting that populations would be exposed to risk through being able to create their own vaccines and medicines.

"Obviously we need to be sure there is safety around vaccines, and for all kinds of treatment, not just Covid and other pandemics and diseases.

"This is about making sure we have wide access to the intellectual property so that other companies in other countries can produce vaccines, get them on the market, to start making sure their populations are vaccinated and start getting their economies back running again."

Miller said the Global South had been hammered by the economic crisis as well as the health crisis.

He said the world needed to pull together to ensure public health takes priority over profit for pharmaceutical companies producing the vaccines.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs