Australia’s leadership in helping end the COVID-19 pandemic

Australia’s leadership in helping end the COVID-19 pandemic

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are calling on all healthcare and public health professionals and academics to support the removal of legal and technical barriers to COVID-19 medical tools. This will expand the production and distribution of vaccines, treatments, and other tools to help fight COVID-19.

On the 30th of April, the Australian government will have a chance to support a landmark proposal to temporarily remove legal barriers at the World Trade Organization. The Australian government says it listens to public health and medical opinions. Let’s make our voices heard ...

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) are calling on all healthcare and public health professionals and academics to support the removal of legal and technical barriers to COVID-19 medical tools. This will expand the production and distribution of vaccines, treatments, and other tools to help fight COVID-19.

On the 30th of April, the Australian government will have a chance to support a landmark proposal to temporarily remove legal barriers at the World Trade Organization. The Australian government says it listens to public health and medical opinions. Let’s make our voices heard.

Join your colleagues below and please add your name to this open letter. Your name will appear on the final letter submitted to the Prime Minister:

  1. Adj. Prof. Terry Slevin, BA(hons) MPH GAICD FPHAA, CEO Public Health Association of Australia.
  2. Jennifer Tierney, Executive Director of Médecins Sans Frontières Australia. 
  3. Prof. Brendan Crabb, AC PhD FAHMS FASM, Director of Burnet Institute.
  4. Annie Butler RN, BN(Hons), Federal Secretary Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. 
  5. Prof. Fran Baum AO, Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor, Flinders University.
  6. Brett Holmes RN, Midwife, General Secretary, NSW Nurses & Midwives’ Association.
  7. Dr. Deborah Gleeson, MPH PhD, Assoc. Prof. in Public Health, La Trobe University. 
  8. Dr. Peter Sainsbury MBBS MHP PhD FAFPHM, Public Health Specialist, NSW.
  9. Assoc. Prof. Kamalini Lokuge, MBBS PhD MAIntLaw, Epidemiologist, Aus National University.
  10. Prof. Rob Moodie, AM MBBS MPH FAFPHM, Deputy Head of Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne.
  11. Prof. Mike Toole, MBBS, DTM&H. Technical Adviser, Know C19 Knowledge Hub. Burnet Institute. 

For more information on the issue of global vaccine equity, intellectual property rights for vaccines, and the COVAX initiative, the article below by Dr Deborah Gleeson provides an overview: The best hope for fairly distributing COVID-19 vaccines globally is at risk of failing. Here’s how to save it 

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An open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Dear The Hon. Scott Morrison, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet,

CC: Health Minister Hon. Greg Hunt; Foreign Affairs Minister Hon. Marise Payne; Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Hon. Dan Tehan; Chief Medical Officer Dr Paul Kelly

We write as Australian health workers and academics in public health and other health disciplines who urge you to forge a strong leadership role for Australia in regards to the global provision of vaccines and other medical tools to fight COVID-19. We acknowledge the effective measures that you and other leaders have taken that have enabled Australia to control the pandemic thus far, however further measures and policy shifts are now required to help bring an end to this pandemic.

We request that the Australian government:

1) Uses ALL its political, legal, and financial leverage to incentivise or where necessary require pharmaceutical companies globally to share knowledge and transfer technology needed to expand the global production of WHO approved COVID-19 vaccines.

2) Support the temporary TRIPS waiver at the WTO, in order to remove legal barriers to access and production of COVID-19 medical tools (including vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics).

These points are further elaborated below, along with our expert opinion as health workers and academics on the risks of not taking immediate action.

As you are aware, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over in Australia. The most significant threat Australia faces to future control of COVID-19 is the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants that more transmissible and/or resistant to vaccines. The only way to prevent this through effective access to vaccines in all countries. By supporting these efforts, Australia not only helps others, but we are also safeguarding our future.

We have already seen COVID-19 mutate, such as in South Africa into the B.1.351 variant. Early data suggests that certain COVID-19 vaccines provided “minimal” protection from that variant of the coronavirus.

We contend that fully vaccinating Australia’s population is not enough. We support the Australian Government’s approach to prioritising vaccination of frontline workers and high-risk groups and believe that these groups should be immediately vaccinated wherever they live.

The Australian Government must take a global perspective and ensure a fair and equitable approach to vaccine distribution. Working to expand the global supply of vaccines and other medical tools to fight the pandemic will benefit Australia as well as the rest of the world, helping to overcome supply blockages, enable access to a broader range of products and bringing the pandemic to an end sooner.

We welcome all the COVID-19 tools which will help bring this pandemic to a close globally, remove the border restrictions, and relax public health and safety restrictions so health workers can go back to treating patients without the daily fear of contracting COVID-19.

Everyone understands that we are in a global public health emergency. We believe it is time for Australia to show enhanced leadership by using all available political, financial, legal, and public health tools to get more vaccines and other medical tools to those who need them most.

This requires expanding global vaccine production, technology transfer, temporarily waiving intellectual property rights, and pooling know-how. Since most pharmaceutical companies are not willing to voluntarily share their intellectual property, governments must act. Australia can and must act. Over 100 WTO members support temporarily waiving TRIPS intellectual property rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. As WHO’s Director General Tedros Adhanom recently noted, “If now is not a time to use them (TRIPS waiver), then when?”

As we have learned in Australia, local and regional manufacturing of vaccines and COVID-19 tools is critical to bridge current global supply gaps. However, many other nation states have been prevented from manufacturing COVID-19 medical products, despite having appropriate manufacturing capacity. This is why we ask your government to support temporarily removing legal barriers (through the TRIPS waiver) and technical barriers (through promoting technology transfer) to ensure vaccines and treatments are available to all.

We stand ready with our communities to face COVID-19, but we are seeking a commitment from Australia to support all the tools that will help bring this pandemic to an end. We therefore urge the Australian government to support the TRIPS waiver and ensure life-saving knowledge transfer of COVID-19 technologies occurs.

The COVID-19 pandemic will not be over for Australia until it is over for everyone.

References:
https://www.bmj.com/content/372/bmj.n372
https://docs.wto.org/dol2fe/Pages/SS/directdoc.aspx?filename=q:/IP/C/W669.pdf