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Catholic Agencies in Europe, North America Urge “equal global access” to COVID-19 Vaccines

Logo of CIDSE, the umbrella organization for Catholic development agencies from Europe and North America

Ahead of the March 10-11 meeting of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Council), the leadership of an international alliance of Catholic development agencies in Europe and North America is advocating for “equal global access” to COVID-19 vaccines. 

In their Tuesday, March 9 statement shared with ACI Africa, officials of the International Cooperation for Development Solidarity (CIDSE), say the slow arrival of the vaccines to countries in the Global South will worsen the living conditions of vulnerable and “poorest populations.”

The Global South is made up of Africa, the Caribbean, Pacific Islands, Latin America and the developing countries in Asia, including the Middle East.

“CIDSE joins other development and medical NGOs and the voices of the Vatican in an urgent call for equal global access to vaccines,” officials of the 45-year-old Belgium-based alliance of Catholic agencies say. 

“Currently-expected delay and scarcity of vaccines available for the Global South countries and their poorest populations is no less than an international scandal,” they further say, adding that the delay and scarcity “will likely worsen poverty and inequality, perpetuate global vulnerability and ultimately delay the surpassing of the pandemic.”

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CIDSE officials fault the seeming monopoly in the supply of the vaccines saying, “The monopolization of vaccine supplies and patents by wealthier nations is a short-sighted response to the COVID-19 crisis, prioritizing selfish interests over true solutions, and ultimately endangering us all.”

Citing the vaccine producers’ projection to have a third of the world's population receive the COVID-19 vaccinations by the end of 2021, CIDSE officials regret that “half of these vaccines were pre-ordered by rich countries constituting only 13% of the world population: 27 Member States of the EU, the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada.”

“Only 10% of people in low-income countries are likely to receive a vaccine this year,” they say and highlight the case of the development agency of Catholic Bishops of Ireland, Trocaire that is the only healthcare provider in Somalia’s Gedo district but does not anticipate receiving any vaccines, “not even for doctors, nurses and midwives, until well into next year.” 

In their March 9 statement, CIDSE officials say the proposal to have a waiver of the patent rights on coronavirus vaccines submitted to WTO last year “would allow all countries to increase and diversify the production of vaccines.”

However, they express concern that “wealthy and powerful Northern countries – including the EU, the US, the UK, and Canada – have blocked the waiver.”

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Last October, South Africa and India submitted a proposal for a waiver from certain provisions of TRIPS for the prevention, containment and treatment of COVID-19.

TRIPS is an international legal agreement between members of the WTO that allows the provision of more extensive protection of intellectual property.

In the March 9 stateement, the leadership of CIDSE says that “the COVAX facility which intends to develop and procure a wide range of vaccines for lower income countries still has a funding gap of $22 billion.”

COVAX is a partnership between the World Health Organization (WHO), Gavi Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). The main aim of the COVAX facility is to reduce vaccine disparity between high- and low-income countries by availing the inoculations to developing countries.  

“The decision-makers of wealthy countries have the opportunity to improve international resilience to future pandemics for the long-term well-being of both their citizens and the world’s most vulnerable people,” officials of the 18-member entity say.

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Beyond the decisions on vaccines, CIDSE officials urge institutions and decision-makers to “act with integrity and principles towards a just recovery for all: which will ensure the well-being of all our sisters and brothers, especially those who risk the most and have the least chances of being heard.”

CIDSE officials’ call for equal global access to coronavirus vaccines adds to previous calls for fair and equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, including Pope Francis, the leadership of the Jesuits Conference in Africa and Madagascar (JCAM) and Caritas Internationalis, among others.