Catholic figures including the President of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences and the Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) have signed an appeal insisting that a future COVID-19 vaccine must be accessible to all.
“The only way to definitively eradicate the pandemic is to have a vaccine that can be administered to all the inhabitants of the planet, urban or rural, men or women, living in rich or poor countries”, read a letter published in Italian Bishops’ newspaper Avvenire appealing for vaccines against the coronavirus to be put in the public domain.
President of the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences Stefano Zamagni and ICMC Secretary General Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo both signed the call, as did over a hundred academics including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus.
“The effectiveness of a vaccination campaign is based on its universality. Governments should make it available free of cost”, read the appeal, which warned against making future vaccines a costly privilege that can only be accessed by already privileged people in society.
Alerting that commercial research facilities engaged in vaccine research are already “expecting a high return on their investment”, the letter’s signatories urged compensation for those facilities making the formula publicly available, for it then to be managed, financed and administered by governments, foundations or global groups like the World Health Organisation.
But “the ethical question of great importance” that needs to be resolved “is how much profit… a laboratory or an inventor [should] be entitled to for a life-saving drug needed by all people all over the world”, the petitioners cautioned.
In that sense, the signatories continued, “a precedent may inspire us”: biologist Jonas Salk’s research on polio in the 1950s, which experimentation – funded by American taxpayers – saved the lives of millions but was never patented.
Salk “did not demand any royalties” from his polio vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine letter writers stated, recalling that all the scientist was interested “was to disseminate the vaccine as widely as possible, as fast as possible”.
“This is a good time to set a norm for the world so that we do not get blinded by money and forget [the] lives of billions of people”, the petitioners concluded.
Commenting on his adding his name to the last of signatories, ICMC Secretary General Vitillo said: “I thought it important to add my signature, given the extreme vulnerability of refugees, migrants, internally displaced people, asylum-seekers, and survivors of human trafficking to COVID-19”.
“I also wanted to call attention to the need for all people to gain access to the vaccine once it is developed and to ensure that price will not be an obstacle to such access, especially for the poorest and most marginalized people in the world”, Vitillo added.
In signing the appeal, the ICMC Secretary General was following in the footsteps of Pope Francis, who also called last Sunday May 3 for life to take precedence over profits in the COVID-19 vaccine drive.
“It’s important, in fact, to bring together scientific capacities, in a transparent and disinterested way, to find vaccines and treatments and to guarantee universal access to essential technologies that will enable every infected person, in every part of the world, to receive the necessary health care”, the pontiff said on that occasion.