A health worker prepares a syringe to inoculate a Covid-19 vaccine A health worker prepares a syringe to inoculate a Covid-19 vaccine 

Holy See: 'Covid-19 vaccines must be accessible to all'

Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič highlights the need for intensified international cooperation and multilateral efforts to fully respect fundamental human rights and guarantee accessibility to the Covid-19 vaccine for all.

By Lisa Zengarini

The Holy See has renewed its call for accessibility to Covid-19 vaccines and medicines for all, stressing 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”.

No one should be left behind

“Access for all to affordable medicines, tools, vaccines, diagnostics and treatment is paramount for a recovery from the crisis: no one should be left behind”, said Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations in Geneva in an address during the 32nd Standing Committee on Patents of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

In his remarks, the Vatican representative highlighted that the crisis, “underlines the importance of the issue of incentives for innovation”  “while ensuring supply and access, including to existing health technologies”, reminding that the UN has repeatedly called for an intensified international cooperation and multilateral efforts to contain, mitigate and defeat the pandemic, while fully respecting fundamental human rights. 

“Such cooperation – he said - includes the exchange of information, scientific knowledge and best practices and the expansion of manufacturing capacity to meet the increasing needs for medical supplies and ensuring that these are made widely available, at an affordable price, on an equitable basis, where they are most needed and as quickly as possible”. “States also have human rights obligations to provide financial and technical support to uphold the right to access to health services, especially in the face of the global spread of the disease”, he added.

Archbishop Jurkovič commended WIPO, for its “willingness and capacity to face the challenges regarding innovation” since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, namely through the provision of a database, PATENTSCOPE and the establishment of some 900 Technology and Innovation Support Centers worldwide that provide access to patent and scientific data and publications as well as ancillary facilities for researchers in the least developed, developing and transition economies.

Ethical concerns

However the Vatican Observer noticed that, in spite of increased research activity “certain ethical concerns remain about “the accessibility of this research”.  “The contribution to society from the invention to be patented does not consist only in the invention as such, but also in the provision of technical information related to that invention”, he pointed out, reminding that “Policy coherence in reaching the twin goals of access to medicines and medical innovation is more vital than ever”. He therefore stressed the need to improve the global patent system, especially to increase “transparency and efficiency”.

According to Archbishop Jurkovič, the current pandemic and the growing and “unfortunate” tendency, on the part of some States, to hoard the newly developed vaccines, has shown that “the access to affordable medicines and vaccines no longer represents a challenge only for the least developed and other developing countries”. He thus reiterated that intellectual property should be subordinated to the requirements of the common good, which “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”, the prelate concluded, reminding, in Pope Francis’ words, that we are “all in the same boat, where one person’s problems are the problems of all”.

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10 December 2020, 16:29