The Holy See advocates for waiving patents on COVID-19 vaccines at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council session

Mathias P.R. Reding (Unsplash)

Isabella H. de Carvalho, I.Media

The Holy See has reiterated it’s support for waiving the intellectual property rights of the COVID-19 vaccines in a statement from 24 June 2021, presented at the 47th session of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

“In addition to the COVID virus, the ‘virus of individualism’ has spread across the globe giving the illusion that “the laws of the market or intellectual property” could be placed over the ‘laws of love and the health of humanity,’” the statement reads as it cites Pope Francis. “The Holy See supports […] a waiver on intellectual property rights in order to ensure universal access to Covid-19 care and vaccines.”  

This is the first time the Holy See has advocated for waiving the intellectual property rights of the COVID-19 vaccines before the United Nations. Pope Francis however has been very vocal about this issue, as he has often encouraged world leaders and pharmaceutical companies to suspend the patents. This measure would allow lower-income countries to produce the vaccines locally, rather than have to buy them from the companies that manufacture the inoculations.  

Several states have come out in support of this initiative such as the US, China, Russia and France. However, other world leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson are not in favor of this position, saying that the patents promote competition between pharmaceutical companies which favors innovation.

The German Chancellor has supported instead establishing licensing deals between the original producer and lower-income countries. This means the pharmaceutical company, who owns the rights to the vaccine, can allow a manufacturer in another country to produce the inoculation locally under a licensed agreement. A spokesperson for the Johnson administration has said the prime minister prefers countries secure economically favorable deals with the vaccine manufacturers, rather than suspending the patents.

The Holy See’s statement references the report of the United Nation’s Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, Obiora C. Okafor, which was presented at the Council session. The report calls for international solidarity and reiterates the important role of the international community in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. UN human rights experts have in fact urged world leaders to ensure the Global South has equal vaccine access, a mission which the Vatican also strongly supports.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic offers the international community a concrete opportunity for realizing this transformation and rethinking our way of life, as well as our social and economic models,” the Holy See’s statement reads.

“This will depend on our ability and willingness to abandon individualism and shape a more solid ethical framework based on international solidarity and the promotion of the common good.”

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