Why Global Citizens Should Care
Vaccine nationalism threatens to undermine efforts to contain and stop the pandemic, and intellectual property rights around vaccines have stifled the effort to overcome COVID-19, advocates say. Pope Francis’ message aligns with the World Health Organization’s call for countries to openly share vaccine production knowledge. You can join us in taking action on this issue and more here.  

His Holiness Pope Francis called on countries to suspend the intellectual property rights that surround COVID-19 vaccines on Saturday, ahead of the global airing of VAX LIVE: The Concert to Reunite the World.

In a video message featured at the live taping of VAX LIVE on May 2 and released on Saturday morning by the Holy See Press Office, the pope suggested that temporarily waiving patent restrictions, which would allow broader vaccine production to support the most vulnerable populations, could help “ensure true universal access to vaccines."

Pope Francis described how the pandemic has already worsened global inequality. 

“The coronavirus has provoked much death and suffering, affecting the lives of many, especially the most vulnerable,” he said in his native Spanish. “I beg you not to forget the most vulnerable. In the midst of so much darkness and uncertainty, we lack light and hope. [We need] a spirit of justice that mobilizes us to ensure true universal access to the vaccine, and a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights.”

For more than a year, leading humanitarian organizations, health advocates, and scientists have called on the World Trade Organization (WTO) to lift rules that allow companies and countries to hoard information concerning vaccines. Advocates argue that waiving the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) rule would increase the global vaccine supply, drive down vaccine prices, and ultimately lead to a faster recovery from the pandemic.

The current model, by contrast, gives certain companies exclusive rights to vaccine production and distribution and has stifled vaccine equity. If this model is maintained, many poor countries will not be able to fully vaccinate their populations until 2024.

US President Joe Biden announced his support of waiving COVID-19 patent restrictions on Wednesday to allow many of the leading vaccines on the market to enter the public domain. 

In addition to suspending patent protections, advocates have called on pharmaceutical companies to share production know-how with developing countries that currently lack manufacturing capacity.

Failing to do so amounts to a “moral catastrophic failure,” according to the World Health Organization. The longer it takes to vaccinate people, the more entrenched the COVID-19 pandemic will become, advocates say. 

“In a global pandemic where every country is affected, we need a global solution,” a consortium of hundreds of civil society groups wrote in an open letter. “Adoption of a Waiver at the WTO level ... enables an expedited, open and automatic global solution to allow uninterrupted collaboration in development, production and supply, and to collectively address the global challenge facing all countries. It’s time for governments to take collective responsibility and put people’s lives before corporate monopolies.”

Several months into the global vaccination campaign, nearly all vaccinations have been administered in wealthy countries, leaving poor countries vulnerable to new outbreaks and emerging COVID-19 variants. As India grapples with an unprecedented surge in infections, the costs of inaction have become even more clear, according to advocates

Pope Francis has continuously been an outspoken advocate for marginalized communities affected by COVID-19. Early during the pandemic, he called for universal access to treatments and vaccines

"In fact, it is important to unite scientific capabilities, in a transparent and impartial way to find vaccines and treatments," he said in May 2020, according to Reuters.

The pope said in his message on Saturday that efforts to promote the common good also protect the environment and lead to universal flourishing. 

"[We need] a spirit of communion that allows us to generate a different economic model that is inclusive, just, and sustainable,” he said. “Every social injustice, every marginalization that leads to poverty or misery impacts the environment as well. Nature and persons are united."

As part of Global Citizen’s Recovery Plan for the World campaign, VAX LIVE: The Concert to Reunite the World will bring together artists, entertainers, world leaders, and more to ensure equitable vaccine distribution around the world, tackle COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, and celebrate a hopeful future.

Find out how to tune in starting May 8 here, and join us in taking action to end the pandemic and ensure that everyone, everywhere has access to COVID-19 vaccines. Then, head to our multimedia hub VAX BECAUSE to join candid conversations about the pandemic and find answers to your biggest questions about the vaccines.

Want to take home part of the show? Check out our VAX LIVE merch at the Global Citizen official store.


Defeat Poverty

Pope Francis Calls for Universal Access to COVID-19 Vaccines and Lifting of Patent Restrictions

By Joe McCarthy