No one is safe until everyone is safe

The coronavirus pandemic has taught us how vulnerable and interdependent we are. The pandemic is global; so must be the solution!

Scientists have responded to this challenge by developing in record time vaccines that can help us overcome the pandemic. They were able to achieve this result thanks to the billions of dollars of public aid partly channelled by the COVAX initiative, under the umbrella of GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization, a coalition to which WHO, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF are members). This initiative envisions acquiring 2 billion doses of the vaccine in order to vaccinate the first group of people at high risk (elderly people and health personnel) in 92 low and middle income countries (more or less 20% of their population) so that nobody will be left behind.

The time has come for the richer countries to unite forces to produce and store enough vaccines that can cater for the needs of the whole world population. The EU has contributed €500,000 to the Covax initiative which makes it the principal contributor to this initiative but, in the meantime, People’s Vaccine Alliance are saying that rich countries have hoarded enough doses of the vaccines to vaccinate their entire populations nearly three times over, leaving some 67 poor countries with only enough to vaccinate one in 10 people. In its report, it also warned that as long as 90 percent of the population in dozens of poorer countries do not have access to the coronavirus vaccine this year, the end of the pandemic will not be in sight.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of WHO cited as an example of disparity in the distribution of the vaccines pointed out that more than 39 million doses of vaccine have been administered in 49 higher-income countries, whereas just 25 doses have been given to one of the poorest countries in the world. Such a “me-first approach”, he said, has left the world’s poorest and most vulnerable at risk. Meanwhile, this is happening at a time when inequality has increased in the world as a result of the conditions created by the pandemic.

Another serious problem relates to TRIPS (Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights). Under this patent system, pharmaceutical companies that have developed vaccines have exclusive intellectual property rights for 20 years. If this system remains in place for coronavirus vaccination, it will prevent sufficient quantities of the vaccine from being produced at good prices for poorer countries.

So, on 2 October 2020, India and South Africa formulated the proposal of a temporary waiver on the provisions of the WTO (World Trade Organization) Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) related to copyright, industrial design, patents and protection of undisclosed information. Given the nature of the pandemic that we are facing, it is expedient that the temporary waiver proposed by India and South Africa are given due consideration.

During this time, China, the USSR and India have started to vaccinate their populations with their respective vaccines whose efficacy has not been validated neither by the WHO (prequalification service) nor the EMA (European Medicines Agency) nor the CDC (Centre for Disease Control – USA) and promised to help countries that will call on them. It is now a matter of national interest with little or no consideration for the global interest!

Africa Europe Faith and Justice Network, (Comboni Missionaries are part of the network) in its desire for a world where the life, dignity and human rights of all are respected, urges the EU:

  • To support more the Covax Initiative for an equal and just distribution of coronavirus vaccines in particular through specific commitments regarding the delivery of vaccines adapted to less developed countries.
  • To stop at WTO refusing the proposal of India and South Africa of a temporary waiver on TRIPS so that vaccines are seen as a public good, the patent system is not enforced, and vaccines can be produced freely, allowing competition to bring the price of vaccines down considerably and to allow a sufficient production of vaccines.

In this sense, AEFJN invites you to sign the European Citizens’ Initiative to ask the European Commission to make the coronavirus vaccine a true global public good.

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