Covid-19 vaccine: Caritas calls for waiver of trade related property rights

As the WTO meets for a Ministerial Conference, Caritas Internationalis issues an appeal for the waiver of trade-related Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property rights for developing countries. The appeal comes in the wake of Pope Francis’ call to leave no one behind.

By Linda Bordoni 

Caritas Internationalis is calling for the waiver of Covid-19 vaccine intellectual property rights for developing countries struggling to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and its far-reaching effects.

The Twelfth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference that is ongoing in Geneva, offers the Church’s global humanitarian organization, the occasion to reiterate the Pope’s and the Church’s call to freely share all information and medical technology with developing countries for the common good.

The Caritas appeal came in a statement delivered to WTO Ministers from across the world as they meet, from 12 to 15 June, to review the functioning of the multilateral trading system and to take action on the future work of the WTO. 

“After 18 months of negotiations regarding the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), Caritas Internationalis would have wished that the reality of Covid-19 could open the door for finding and implementing effective, broad and comprehensive solutions to address the life-threatening challenges faced by the poorest and most vulnerable people of our world,” the statement reads.

It notes that “Waiving all intellectual property rights for the duration of the pandemic will enable countries in the Global South to produce vaccines and build stronger and resilient health systems capable of coping with potential future pandemics.”

“This cannot be done unless a quick transfer of knowledge through training and accompaniment to produce vaccines is agreed upon.”

Pope Francis’ appeal

Ahead of the WTO’s ministerial conference, Pope Francis voiced his support for waiving intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines and asked the UN body to adopt measures to ensure access to coronavirus shots for all.

“I add my voice to that of the Pan-American and Pan-African Committees of Judges for Social Rights in calling on the @WTO to adopt measures to ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines for all, especially the peoples of Africa,” Pope Francis said in a tweet.

“Equitable access to safe and effective vaccines is fundamental to saving lives and livelihoods. Africa must not be left behind. No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

Ahead of the WTO meeting on June 12, negotiators in Geneva finalized their work on two draft texts setting out a WTO response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including intellectual property (IP) response.

A basic right for every person

Echoing the Pope’s appeal, Caritas Internationalis Secretary General, Aloysius John, said “It is a basic right for every person to have access to healthcare in all circumstances, especially during pandemics.”

“in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to impact the lives of millions of people worldwide, it has become evident that the citizens of developing nations should have equitable access to life-saving vaccines.”

According to the latest UN figures, only 17.6% of people in low-income countries have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, whereas 72.2% of people in high-income countries have been vaccinated with at least one dose.

The poor have been left alone

Statistics show that people living in poverty are those most exposed to the disease and its impacts.

They are the ones, the Caritas statement notes, who “have been left alone and do not have access to healthcare, vaccines and essential health technologies and resources to face Covid-19 and emerging variants.”

Caritas Internationalis concludes informing the Ministers that the TRIPS Agreement, is a compromise, “that still does not constitute a comprehensive temporary waiver.”

In fact, it notes, “it imposes new barriers on countries attempting to remove intellectual property barriers and increase Covid-19 medicines production; does not cover all of the intellectual property barriers to Covid-19 technologies access; does not cover therapeutics and diagnostics; and, excludes entire countries.”

“We call on all countries to urgently base their decisions on a human rights framework, making sure that the dignity of every individual is preserved and social justice prevails.”