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Thank scientists by waiving IP rights on vaccines, paper says


Researchers call for Australian vaccine manufacturing reform to deal with issues exposed by the pandemic

Australia should “honour” the work of scientists during the Covid-19 pandemic by reforming and improving its drug manufacturing scene, including supporting intellectual property changes, an article in the Medical Journal of Australia has said.

The opinion piece, published on 24 April, was written by Martin Hensher, a research fellow at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, and Sithara Wanni Arachchige Dona, a researcher at Deakin University.

It urges Australia to support the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights waiver, known as Trips, in order to release intellectual property rights to vaccines. The authors say the waiver movement has “stalled”.

“A sufficient mass of countries need to identify options for collective action to change, bypass or neutralise these frameworks in the short run, while a wholesale institutional redesign for international handling of intellectual property and trade in healthcare and other essential sectors is undertaken for the longer term,” they say. The Trips proposal was first made internationally in 2020, but Australia is yet to declare its support.

Vaccine ‘oligopolies’

The authors call for “urgent [Australian] government financing and infrastructure support for new vaccine development by not-for-profit operations, and the establishment or expansion of more publicly owned, not-for-profit manufacturers, such as mRNA Victoria”.

“Australia and other high- and middle-income nations are currently at grave risk of remaining hostage to a market captured by a small number of manufacturers.”

Vaccine mandates and the need for repeated boosters make supply a serious issue, causing a risk of what the authors call “vaccine oligopolies”.

“Australia should lead a coalition of high- and lower-income governments to create an environment in which manufacturers must increasingly choose between working as partners in jointly owned public and private missions or as monopolistic adversaries bearing consequential risks.”

The pharmaceutical industry body Medicines Australia has urged caution on Trips, saying that it risks “weakening the ecosystem of R&D partnerships underpinned by the current intellectual property protections that brought them to communities around the world”.