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Pope Francis calls for vaccine patent waiver to fight Covid in poor countries as EU leaders push back

Pope Francis has come out in support of waiving intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines, backing a proposal by U.S. President Joe Biden that has been rebuffed by some European nations, including Germany.

n a speech to a global fundraising concert to promote fair access to vaccines, the Pope said the world was infected with the “virus of individualism”.

“A variant of this virus is closed nationalism, which prevents, for example, an internationalism of vaccines,” he said in the pre-recorded video message.

“Another variant is when we put the laws of the market or of intellectual market or intellectual property over the laws of love and the health of humanity,” he added, recalling the heavy death toll the coronavirus had inflicted on the world.

His comments came in the middle of a debate over whether pharmaceutical companies should waive patent protection for Covid-19 vaccines.

Biden backed such a move on Wednesday, heeding calls from India, South Africa and more than 100 other countries.

However, many European countries, led by Germany and France, distanced themselves on Friday from the suggestion, arguing that key to ending the Covid-19 pandemic was making and sharing vaccines more quickly. 

President Michael D Higgins welcomed Biden’s announcement as one of “immense moral significance in international policy”. It was also welcomed by Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, while Tánaiste Leo Varadkar adopted a more cautious tone.

Meanwhile, European Union leaders cranked up their criticism of the U.S. call to waive Covid-19 vaccine patents today, arguing the move would bring no short- or mid-term relief. They instead urged Washington to lift export restrictions if it wants to have a global impact on the pandemic.

“We don’t think, in the short term, that it’s the magic bullet,” said EU Council President Charles Michel on the second day of an EU summit in Portugal. French President Emmanuel Macron insisted that giving any priority to discussing intellectual property rights now, “is a false debate.”

Instead, they joined previous EU calls for U.S. President Joe Biden to start boosting U.S. vaccine exports to contain the global COVID-19 crisis, insisting it was the most urgent need.

“We encourage all the partners to facilitate the export of (vaccine) doses,” said Michel.

While the U.S. has kept a tight lid on exports of American-made vaccines so it can inoculate its own population first, the EU has become the world’s leading provider, allowing about as many doses to go outside the 27-nation bloc as are kept for its 446 million inhabitants. The EU has distributed about 200 million doses within the bloc while about the same amount had been exported abroad to almost 90 countries.

“First of all, you must open up,” said Macron. “In the United States, in the United Kingdom, 100 percent of what has been produced has been used in the domestic market.” Macron said that “first of all, the Anglo Saxons must stop their bans on exports.”

The EU is trying to regain the diplomatic initiative on vaccines after Biden put it on the back foot with his surprising endorsement of lifting patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines, seeking to solve the problem of getting shots into the arms of people in poorer countries.

Macron and other EU leaders have insisted that first of all production capacity must be ramped up by, among other things, reconverting factories so they can quickly start producing vaccines through a transfer of technology. Developed nations should also increase vaccine donations to poorer countries.

Only after that, Macron said, can the debate on patent waivers start having an impact.

“Today, there is not a factory in the world that cannot produce doses for poor countries because of a patent issue,” Macron said.

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland

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