Any COVID-19 vaccines to be developed over the coming months need to be made freely available to all people everywhere, urges a group of academic and health experts from around the world.
“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,” reads a letter appealing for COVID-19 vaccines to be made available in the public domain.
Such a move would make it possible to produce the vaccine and distribute it widely without paying royalties or patent costs. In this way, the vaccine would be accessible to all, rather than becoming a costly privilege that can only be accessed by the already privileged members of society.
International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) Secretary General Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo added his name to the list of the letter’s signatories, which include some 120 academics and one Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
“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,” said Msgr. Vitillo. “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.”
On Sunday, 2 May 2020, Pope Francis made a case for life to be given priority over profits: “It’s important, in fact, to put together the scientific capacities, in a transparent and selfless way, to find vaccines and treatments, and to guarantee universal access to the essential technologies that enable every infected person, in every part of the world, to receive the necessary health care,” said the Holy Father.
The issue of life vs. profits will once again come to the forefront when a vaccine is created, the letter’s signatories pointed out. An “ethical question of great importance” is “to how much profit should a laboratory or an inventor be entitled to for a life-saving drug needed by all people all over the world.” The letter suggests that such a profit could be funded by governments, foundations, philanthropists, or global organizations with private and public support.
The letter also recalls the precedent established in the fifties by Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed a vaccine for polio, a virus-generated disease that affected children causing lifelong paralysis. Dr. Salk never patented his invention.
- Read the letter in English, French, Spanish and Italian.