BY ISN STAFF | May 12, 2021
As vaccination rates increased this spring across the U.S. and other wealthy countries, low-income countries were left behind. In a global effort, Jesuit and other Catholic leaders and partners worldwide committed to advocating on behalf of those without access.
One of the most significant obstacles to broader vaccine distribution has been intellectual property rights. Under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, monopoly rights are granted to the pharmaceutical companies who developed them. This means that other companies who can produce the same vaccines are not permitted to do so. A large group of low-income countries, led by South Africa and India, has asked the WTO to grant an emergency waiver, which would allow pharmaceutical companies to produce generic versions of these vaccines during the pandemic, making them much more widely available.
The United States blocked this waiver until an announcement from President Biden last week, a reversal supported by Catholic advocates, as well as Pope Francis, who said over the weekend, “A variant of this virus is closed nationalism, which prevents, for example, an internationalism of vaccines. Another variant is when we put the laws of the market or intellectual property over the laws of love and the health of humanity.” Pope Francis has repeatedly affirmed that vaccines must be made available and accessible to all, “especially the most vulnerable and needy of all regions of the planet.”
In February, Jesuit partners in Africa wrote to President Biden and other world leaders, stating that the opposition to the waiver “is contributing to the deepening global crises of inequality.” The Jesuits’ Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES) on Monday, May 10, also released a statement strongly calling for justice in the global allocation of COVID-19 vaccines. “The Society of Jesus is committed to engaging in advocacy at the local, national, and international levels with like-minded organisations to ensure that all individuals, no matter where they live, have access to the COVID-19 vaccine,” reads the statement from Fr. Xavier Jeyaraj, S.J., Secretary of SJES. “Nobody will be safe from the virus until everyone is safe, underscoring the need for increased justice and solidarity in addressing this global issue.” The statement was signed by the presidents of all six Jesuit conferences worldwide.
Throughout the spring, hundreds of advocates have joined the Ignatian Solidarity Network and the Jesuit Conference Office of Justice and Ecology in advocating for the vaccine waiver. Advocates asserted that “solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world demands that we do everything possible to enable rapid vaccination on a global level.”