By Vatican News staff writer
A Press Conference in the Holy See Press Office on Friday saw the presentation of the Final Communiqué of the International Round Table on Vaccinations, which took place in the Vatican on 1 July.
The discussion saw the collaboration of the World Medical Association, German Medical Association and Pontifical Academy for Life as they work to promote vaccine equity and confront vaccine hesitancy.
Speaking at the discussion were Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life (PAL), Dr. Ramin Parsa-Parsi, Head of Department for International Affairs, “German Medical Association” (GMA), and Professor Dr. Frank Ulrich Montgomery, Chair of Council, “World Medical Association” (WMA) who was present through video connection.
A joint statement by the three organisations noted that “considered one of the greatest achievements of modern medicine, vaccines play a vital role in the prevention of infectious diseases. They have been proven to avoid millions of deaths and protect millions more from getting sick each year. But to unlock the full innovative potential of vaccines, action must be taken to overcome barriers to vaccine equity and to address the root causes of vaccine hesitancy”.
Recognizing the urgency of these issues and the essential role international and cross-sectoral collaborations can play in advancing these causes, the WMA, the PAL, and the GMA have joined forces to demand that all relevant stakeholders exhaust all efforts to “ensure equitable global access to vaccines, which is a key prerequisite for a successful global vaccination campaign, and confront vaccine hesitancy by sending a clear message about the safety and necessity of vaccines and counteracting vaccine myths and disinformation”.
Archbishop Paglia opened his address noting that although “It has now become a kind of mantra that vaccines belong to everyone, “vaccinations also affect the common good and justice”. He went on to quote Pope Francis who said that “if a pharmaceutical can cure a disease, it should be available to everyone, otherwise injustice will result…there is no place for ‘medical marginalization'”.
Archbishop Paglia stressed that there should be no restrictions made based on low-income countries’ limited capacity to buy vaccinations.
“Supporting the universal availability of vaccines means entering into a complex set of problems, which have aspects that are scientific-technological, economic-commercial and geopolitical (e.g., “vaccine nationalism”’)”, he said.
Archbishop Paglia then highlighted two issues regarding the phenomenon of “vaccination hesitancy”.
First of all, it must be understood that biological and medical considerations are not the only ones that come into play, that seem objective and immutable. Vaccines, he noted, “have a history that is marked by injustice and oppression”. For this reaso it is difficult to ask for trust from people who have had to deal with systemic victimisation by the countries that are generally the ones that produce vaccines. “To build real confidence we need policies that include a comprehensive vision of development and fairer international relations”, he said.
The second issue, continued Archbishop Paglia, is that it is not necessarily true that the priorities of the West coincide with those of countries of the Global South (in particular Africa). “What seems to us to be a priority is not necessarily a priority for others”, he explained. We must prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from drawing all attention to itself to a point that it appears, albeit with valid reasons, as the most urgent. “It is important that the initiatives now undertaken in response to the Covid-19 emergency take future needs and structural concerns into account as before and not limit themselves to the short term”, he said.
The undertaking facing us is complex and will require a lot of work. That is why, he said, it is important for us to join forces with all those who share our objectives, even if we have different beliefs from them about other subjects.
Dr Ramin Parsi
Dr Ramin Parsi from the German Medical Association then spoke of the collaboration between the two entities: the World Medical Association and the Pontifical Academy for Life – “specifically how and why we made the decision to host a joint meeting and release a joint statement on the subject of vaccination”, he said.
Dr Parsi noted that the current pandemic has illustrated the importance of vaccination, but that it has also laid bare the great inequity of access to vaccines and the dangers posed by vaccine nationalism.
“Many developing countries are at a disadvantage due to financial restrictions and limitations on production capacity, while higher-income countries have the resources to access highly effective vaccines”, he said.
Unfortunately, there is not yet an adequate supply of vaccines available and, even if vaccine production was increased, it wouldn’t be enough to meet the demands of all regions of the world in a reasonable and timely manner.
What needs to be done, explained Dr Parsi, is that “vaccines need to be produced locally”, but for this to occur several barriers need to be overcome. Solving patent issues is certainly one important element needed to support a self-sustaining system of vaccine production, but this must be bolstered by, the transfer of knowledge and expertise and the training of staff; International investment in vaccine production sites in resource poor settings; The guarantee of adequate quality control.
Dr Parsi then went on to speak of the same mistrust mentioned by Archbishop Paglia, expressing his hope that these three key points could help “boost vaccine confidence and to encourage solutions to the hurdles faced by parts of the world where vaccines are still scarce”.