The rapid development and dissemination of COVID vaccines has been one of the pandemic’s greatest achievements.
However, Australia risks relying on COVID vaccines from two major companies – Pfizer and Moderna – and this is a problem.
While the need for COVID vaccines is not going away any time soon, we need to shape the market to drive more competition in order to improve access to improved vaccines.
Here’s what Australia needs to do to break free from an effective double monopoly that dominates the domestic market, especially when so many of us need boosters.
How did we get here?
When Covid finally became widespread in Australia late last year, vaccines (and high levels of adult vaccination) worked very well to reduce deaths and severe disease.
Since January 1 of this year, there have been more than 5.9 million confirmed COVID cases nationwide, but about 5,300 deaths.
However, current vaccines are not 100% effective in protecting against infection; New viral variants (and sub-variants) keep emerging; Protection from vaccination and previous infection wears off very quickly, which means that reinfection is becoming more common and booster shots may remain a part of the landscape for some time to come.
Meanwhile, inequality in vaccines remains an unresolved problem. This has led to a situation where rich countries, such as Australia, administer booster doses where some poor countries do not have enough vaccine for the first doses.
Pfizer and Moderna, but not much else
In a recent article in australian medical journalwe demonstrate the need to break free from the handful of strong players who continue to dominate the COVID vaccine market in Australia.
While the number of COVID vaccines approved around the world is increasing, Australia is still largely dependent on only two vaccines, those from Pfizer and Moderna.
AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines are rarely used as boosters if no other suitable vaccines are available.
More than 95% of Australian adults have already received two doses of the COVID vaccine. So the future requirements are primarily for boosters and children’s vaccines. Therefore, Australia still faces an effective duopoly.
This effective duopoly reinforces the already significant power these manufacturers have through the intellectual property rights for their vaccines.
These vaccine patents are protected by the World Trade Organization under the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (or TRIPS). This prevents international competitors from replicating the patented technologies.
These patent rights allow companies to earn higher profits (or “economic rents”) than if their technologies were freely available to allow for open competition.
Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States are violating international law and repeating the colonial hierarchy by denying access to COVID vaccine and treatment technologies. https://t.co/jCa7URTjgE
– Valentina Montanaro (@hippyhappyme) May 10 2022
The intellectual property dimensions of the COVID vaccines have been controversial.
Pfizer and Moderna have continued to make extraordinary profits from COVID vaccines.
However, Moderna found itself in conflict with the US government, US government employees directly developed several key technologies for Moderna’s vaccine (not to mention years of publicly funded basic research).
Moderna has also resisted sharing the formulation of its vaccine to allow major middle-income countries to manufacture it.
Meanwhile, Pfizer has negotiated beneficial and confidential vaccine contracts with governments, shifting responsibility and risk to governments and controlling the ability of nations to redistribute stock among themselves.
High-income countries have consistently resisted or softened calls for a TRIPS exemption, which would have allowed global sharing of manufacturing technologies.
Critics argue that opponents of a TRIPS waiver are largely concerned about avoiding setting any precedents that might allow big pharma’s profits to be determined in the future.
What should Australia do next?
In Australia, the fact that current COVID vaccines only partially prevent transmission makes us rely on this effective duopoly of continuous boosters. Reinforcements also remain required for people in many occupations.
Australia can escape this captive vaccine market in three steps.
1. Approval of more vaccines
Australia needs to expand the supply of new COVID vaccines by actively helping a wide range of manufacturers to submit their products to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for approval. This would increase competition for boosters and stimulate the development and provision of more effective “sterilizing” vaccines (those that prevent transmission of the virus).
Meanwhile, Australia must extract maximum value from all existing vaccine contracts, and insist on complete freedom to move supplies to our regional neighbours.
2. Lobbying for Patent Reform
Australia should use its influence to aggressively push the TRIPS waiver into the World Trade Organization. It should also explore strategic options with a coalition of partners to consider how to quickly reform the current global IP system or, if necessary, circumvent it.
3. Create a local not-for-profit capacity
Australia must establish an economic ‘mission’ to create a publicly owned, not-for-profit vaccine and essential pharmaceutical research and develop and manufacture infrastructure and capacity in Australia. This would serve the broader local and regional needs of COVID and beyond.
Unfortunately, the Australian government’s recent agreement with Moderna to establish mRNA synthesis here is not Like this example. It may risk solidifying the current strength. The agreement also remains a secret.
In an increasingly insecure world of growing turmoil – environmental and health crises, disintegrating supply chains and rising military tensions – Australia can provide a safe, flexible vaccine and drug manufacturing capacity to protect the health of Australians and our neighbours.
However, the old paradigms that privileged shareholders, through excess profits and protection of intellectual property, will not achieve this new vision.
Are COVID-19 boosters the same as the original vaccines?
Introduction of the conversation
This article has been republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
the quote: Australia Risks Relying on Pfizer and Moderna for COVID Vaccines: Three Ways to Break Free (2022, May 16) Retrieved May 16, 2022 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-05-australia-pfizer-moderna-covid- vaccines.html
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