Vatican diplomat: COVID-19 vaccines must be accessible to all

doc in ppe in Thailand A lab technician scientist in PPE. | Chinnapong / Shutterstock.

A Vatican diplomat has called for a coordinated rollout of COVID-19 vaccines which ensures that the poor are not left behind.

Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, permanent representative of the Holy See to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, addressed a global patent network on Dec. 9.

"Access for all to affordable medicines, tools, vaccines, diagnostics and treatment for COVID-19 is paramount for a recovery from the crisis: no one should be left behind," Jurkovič said.

"Since the start of the pandemic, there have been calls for coordinated efforts for the production of medical products, for sharing technology and for ensuring access to affordable treatments for everyone, especially the poor and those in vulnerable situations."

The archbishop was speaking in Geneva to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a UN agency with 193 member states that provides a global forum for patents, industrial designs, copyright, and trademark information and services.

He said that the Holy See supported the work of the organization's standing committee on patent law, adding: "A unique and historic crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, underlines the importance of the issue of incentives for innovation, in this case the urgent need to develop new medical products, while ensuring supply and access, including to existing health technologies."

Expressing concern that some countries might "hoard" the new vaccines, Jurkovič underlined that intellectual property should always be subordinated to the common good.

"As shown by the current pandemic and by the growing and unfortunate tendency, on the part of some states, to hoard the newly developed vaccines, the access to affordable medicines and vaccines no longer represents a challenge only for the least developed and other developing countries; it has also become an increasingly urgent issue for developed countries," he said.

"The Holy See would like to recall once again that patent rights should be exercised coherently with the objectives of mutual advantage of patent holders and users of patented medicines, in a manner conducive to social and economic welfare, to a balance of rights and obligations, and at the service of promoting integral human development."

There are more than 57 vaccines for COVID-19 in the world currently undergoing clinical trials on humans, according to the New York Times.

The U.K. became the first Western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine on Dec. 2 by providing an emergency authorization to Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine. Other countries are planing to rollout rounds of vaccinations in the new year.

There has been debate over the ethics of some of the COVID-19 vaccines, including one under development by Moderna. In response, the Catholic microbiologist Deacon Robert Lanciotti told CNA that, while research connected to aborted fetal cells may have contributed to the knowledge base being used in the vaccine's development, the actual production of the vaccine does not use cells of any kind, fetal or otherwise. 

Jurkovič emphasized in his remarks that "while the increase in research activity is welcome, there remain certain ethical concerns -- in particular in relation to genetic material -- about the accessibility of this research and potential obstacles this can create for the 'freedom-to-operate'."

"In recognizing that the acceleration of the search for solutions to problems in the world, which the protection of intellectual property rights may promote, the delegation of the Holy See would like to emphasize that intellectual property should be subordinated to the requirements of the common good," he said.

"This implies the need for adequate control mechanisms to monitor the logic of the market."

"The common tragedy that the human family is facing this year should reawaken a sense of our interconnectedness as a global community."

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