The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment has been urged by vaccine activists to support a Trips waiver to pause intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines.
Politicians were told the introduction of a waiver would prevent high levels of mortality in low-income countries.
However, representatives from the pharmaceutical industry have said that supply is not the issue causing vaccine inequity.
The committee heard that just 13 per cent of people in low-income countries have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine. This compares to 75 per cent of people in high-income countries.
Meanwhile, less than one per cent of people in low-income countries are boosted, compared to over 60 per cent of people in Ireland.
Representing the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association, Oliver O’Connor, chief executive, said that supply was not the issue, as two billion vaccine doses currently available.
"The cause of global Covid-19 vaccine inequity is the capacity of some countries, mostly developing nations, to absorb, distribute and administer the doses they get," Mr O'Connor said.
"In some of these countries, Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy is high.
"There are reports of shortages of syringes and medical equipment, as well as the destruction of significant quantities of doses of expired vaccines."
Mr O'Connor added that d global equity of access to Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, and
the protection of intellectual property rights, are not mutually exclusive.
“To thrive, innovation depends on intellectual property protection. It is the certainty that shields the risky business of investing in research and development,” he said.
“Most of it fails. The global patents system is the basis for innovation. The proposed Trips waiver is a serious risk to the global patents system.”
Also speaking before the committee was Jim Clarken, CEO of Oxfam Ireland.
"Pharma has never seen profits like it’s never seen before, these profits have created many new billionaires. The idea that the #TRIPSwaiver will somehow lead to devastation of the pharma industry just isn’t believable" - @JimClarken pic.twitter.com/pBvc0p5dSW
— Oxfam Ireland (@OxfamIreland) May 11, 2022
Mr Clerkan urged politicians to support a Trips waiver, adding that opposition of a waiver is in contravention of Ireland’s human rights obligations.
"It is greatly damaging Ireland’s international reputation as a champion of low-income countries," Mr Clerkan said.
"Low-income countries can’t wait any longer. The Trips waiver is supported by over 100 countries, the WHO, the Seanad and the majority of the Irish public."
Mr Clerkan did not accept that a waiver would damage the pharma industry.
"Pharma has never seen profits like it’s never seen before, these profits have created many new billionaires," he said.
"The idea that the Trips waiver will somehow lead to devastation of the pharma industry just isn’t believable"
Sinn Féin TD Louise O'Reilly, who sits on the committee, agreed that the State should push for a waiver.
“The pharmaceutical companies focused on the need to invest, however, representatives from Médecins Sans Frontières and Oxfam were clear – given that much of the investment to date has been through public money, it is the public, globally, who should be the beneficiaries," Ms O'Reilly said.
“The Tánaiste sits on the [EU] Council of Ministers of Trade and he can, and should, use any influence he has to encourage the introduction of a Trips waiver on Covid-19 vaccines and technology.
“Such a waiver would allow for negotiation at local level for the temporary suspension of intellectual property rights and ensure people in low- and middle-income countries have access to the Covid-19 vaccine.
“We can and should be leaders on this important issue.”