Columbans support increase in global access to COVID vaccines

There is an urgent need for an increase in access to Covid vaccines across the globe, especially for poorer nations - Photo:pexels.comThere is an urgent need for an increase in access to Covid vaccines across the globe, especially for poorer nations - Photo:pexels.com

Columbans endorse the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference support for an increase in global access to Covid vaccines

Last month St Columbans Mission Society co-signed a letter that was sent by the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) to the Australian government supporting an increase in global access to COVID vaccines. The Columban Peace, Ecology & Justice Office is a member of AFTINET. 

Representatives of AFTINET, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Office for Justice, Ecology and Peace, Oxfam Australia and the Public Health Association of Australia met with the Government Minister for Trade, Minister Dan Tehan, to discuss the urgent need for an increase in access to Covid vaccines across the globe, especially for poorer nations. They asked the Minister to support the proposal sponsored by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver for monopoly intellectual property rules in the World Trade Organisation (WTO). This would enable vastly increased global production of vaccines at prices affordable to low-income countries. In response, Minister Tehan said he supported the waiver. Previously the government had said it supported the WTO negotiations, but not the waiver. The representatives of AFTINET said their campaign is determined to hold the government to account for its stated support for the waiver and to press Australia to take a leading role in achieving it.

“Pope Francis, and many other religious leaders, stress that vaccines are a common good. Vaccines only achieve their purpose if everyone has access to them: no one is safe until we are all safe.”

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference promulgated a media release which stated: “The Catholic Church has welcomed Australian Government support for international efforts to amend intellectual property rights to ensure more people can access life-saving COVID-19 vaccines. AFTINET members see a waiver on some provisions of the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) for COVID-19 vaccines and medical products as a key strategy for ensuring equitable access to vaccines.” 

Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv, chair of the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service, said it was important for the Australian Government to speak up prominently for that initiative at the upcoming TRIPS meeting.He said, “The TRIPS waiver would enable greater access to vaccines for the whole human family, while allowing for an appropriate return – and not super-profits – for pharmaceutical companies.”

Bishop Long said that in the context of a pandemic, and of an international pharmaceutical market where a small number of firms have market power, governments have a moral responsibility to intervene to ensure just access to vaccines for all, while allowing a fair return for companies.  “Seeking unreasonable profits in the face of a catastrophic global threat to human life is unconscionable,” he said. He reminds us that, “Pope Francis, and many other religious leaders, stress that vaccines are a common good. Vaccines only achieve their purpose if everyone has access to them: no one is safe until we are all safe.” Furthermore, Bishop Long reminds us of what the Vatican’s international COVID Commission has said, “a focus on profit alone is not ethically acceptable in the field of medicine and healthcare.”

Columban Fr Kevin O’Neill is a member of the Columban Peace, Ecology & Justice Office, Essendon, Australia.

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