Canada must stop vaccine obstruction, religious say

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A drive-in Mass is celebrated at St. Ann’s Parish in Abbottsford, B.C. Indoor gatherings were allowed and then quickly rescinded with the rise of COVID cases in B.C. [Photo courtesy of The B.C. Catholic]

By Michael Swan

TORONTO, Canada, (The Catholic Register) – The Sisters of St Joseph, the Oblates and the Jesuits have joined with a long list of churches, unions and humanitarian organizations to ask prime minister Justin Trudeau to get behind an exception to international patent laws that would allow companies and countries to quickly produce cheaper, generic versions of COVID-19 vaccines.

At World Trade Organization meetings in Geneva in December and again early in March, Canada stood in the way of a joint Indian-South African proposal for a TRIPS waiver (TRIPS stands for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), which would allow countries and generic drug makers to produce generic versions of vaccines without fear of sanctions or lawsuits.

“Everyone everywhere needs out of this pandemic as quickly as possible. Canada must be part of the global effort to save lives — not an obstacle. We call on the Canadian government to support the waiver now,” said the March 10 letter from 38 organizations including the United Church of Canada and the ecumenical social justice organization Kairos.

Global Affairs Canada told The Catholic Register “Canada has not rejected the COVID-19-related TRIPS waiver proposal.” Canada has instead joined with Mexico and Chile in withholding its support until advocates for the proposal answer questions about “specific intellectual property-related barriers.”

The stance is just camouflage for obstruction, according to signatories to the letter.

“Vaccine technology and knowledge are being treated as private property by pharmaceutical corporations, despite much of this research being paid for by over $100 billion of taxpayers’ money,” the letter to Trudeau reads.

South of the border, the Jesuits have mounted a full court press to get Washington to reverse its opposition to a TRIPS waiver.

“There is no reason to guarantee further monopoly rights to the companies,” Jesuit Fr. Ted Penton wrote in a letter to congressional representatives March 18.

“Intellectual property rights are an important way to encourage private companies to fund innovation, ensuring that they can reap the fruits of their own investments,” Penton wrote to all 435 members of Congress. “The development of COVID vaccines, however, has been largely funded by taxpayers, with governments pre-purchasing the vaccines from pharmaceutical companies with no guarantee that effective vaccines would be developed. Taxpayers took the risk and the companies have been paid.”

Read more of Penton’s letter to Congress, The African Jesuits position on COVAX, and the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD).

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