Pope Francis

Pope Francis, seen here in 2015, on Saturday urged pharmaceutical companies to lift patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines. (Photo: UN /Kim Haughton)

'Make a Gesture of Humanity': Pope Francis Urges Pharma Giants to Release Covid-19 Vaccine Patents

"There are countries where only three or four percent of the inhabitants have been vaccinated."

Amid ongoing outrage over global vaccine inequity, Pope Francis on Saturday urged pharmaceutical companies to "make a gesture of humanity" by lifting intellectual property protections and sharing Covid-19 vaccine technology with the world.

The pope's remarks came during a video address to the World Meeting of Popular Movements, a collection of grassroots groups, in which he expressed his belief "that we are not condemned to repeat or to build a future based on exclusion and inequality."

"In the name of God," the pope said, "I ask all the great pharmaceutical laboratories to release the patents. Make a gesture of humanity and allow every country, every people, every human being to have access to the vaccines."

"There are countries where only three or four percent of the inhabitants have been vaccinated," he added.

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Francis' appeal, first reported by Reuters, capped off a week in which governments at the World Trade Organization's intellectual property council still failed to agree on a proposal to lift the vaccine patent protections.

The Biden administration has backed the waiver proposal, first put forth over a year ago, but the United Kingdom and some wealthy European Union nations continue to block it--opposition social justice campaigners attribute to Big Pharma lobbying.

"How many more people must die from Covid-19 before [U.K. Prime Minister] Boris Johnson gets out of the way and lets low- and middle-income countries produce their own vaccines?" Tim Bierley, pharma campaigner at the U.K.-based advocacy group Global Justice Now, said in a statement Thursday.

In the U.S., President Joe Biden faced a call this week from a group of congressional Democrats to take further action to make Moderna share its recipe in light of the "huge sums of public funding from American taxpayers" the company received to develop the vaccine.

Public health advocates are also urging the U.S. to stop hoarding and wasting its vaccine stockpile and instead share its surplus doses with COVAX, the global vaccine sharing initiative.

According to the latest update from Our World in Data, 47.4% of the world population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Just 2.7% of people in low-income countries, however, have received at least a single dose.

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