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Vatican Backs South Africa, India Proposal to Suspend COVID-19 Vaccine Production Barriers

Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See's Secretariat of State, at the Vatican Oct. 27, 2017./ Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, has maintained the support of the Vatican entity of a call to waive barriers in the production of COVID-19 vaccines as proposed by South Africa and India.

In the proposal that has attracted wide-reaching support, the two countries on 2 October 2020 asked the World Trade Organization (WTO) to suspend its enforcement of key patents for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, in order to allow countries to produce generic treatments and expand vaccine access. 

In his address during the 15th Ministerial Conference of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Archbishop Gallagher noted that the Holy See has always supported the proposal that still faces resistance from some WTO members.

The Vatican official warned that the “significant inequalities” in access to medications and vaccines posed a major challenge to the countries that could not afford the vaccines.

“Health and access to medications and vaccines is yet another area characterized by significant inequalities that could pose significant repercussions in the future and dangerous risks for systemic resilience,” Archbishop Gallagher said in a report shared Wednesday, October 6.

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He added, “In the rapidly evolving pandemic scenario, a waiver on World Trade Organization (WTO) intellectual property rules, as proposed by South Africa and India, and supported from the very beginning by the Holy See, would be a vital and necessary step to end this pandemic, by enabling adequate and rapid access to vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for all countries.”

The Catholic Archbishop acknowledged the different technologies and challenges related to COVID-19 vaccines, and underscored the need for those with vaccine know-how and technology to share it openly.

The UNCTAD conference was held on the topic, “From inequality and vulnerability to prosperity for all” on Tuesday, October 5.

At the Conference, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States noted that the COVID-19 pandemic not only has increased inequality within countries, but has also upended public budgets in many developing economies, exposing their sovereign debts to global financial instability.

The developing economies, he said, have faced more limitations than developed countries in their efforts to mobilize domestic resources to respond to the pandemic.

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The economic gap, the Archbishop noted, is “one more example of the dangerous global divide between the haves and the have-nots.”

In their proposal that was dubbed, “Waiver from Certain Provisions of the Trips Agreement for the Prevention, Containment and Treatment of COVID-19”, South Africa and India underlined the importance for the WTO Members to work together to ensure that intellectual property rights such as patents, industrial designs, copyright and protection of undisclosed information do not create barriers to the timely access to affordable medical products including vaccines and medicines.

The waiver, the two nations noted, should continue until widespread vaccination is in place globally, and the majority of the world's population has developed immunity.

More than 100 countries and prominent human rights groups, including Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, have reportedly supported the proposal.

The European Union, the United Kingdom and Switzerland have, however, been said to remain opposed, a situation that has been said to derail vaccine access.

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