High-level Thematic Debate
“Galvanizing Momentum for Universal Vaccination”
United Nations Headquarters
25 February 2022
For nearly two years, the world has experienced the COVID-19 pandemic together: fear as it spread, isolation as we locked down, and hope as researchers developed treatments and vaccines. Yet, although we face the same health crisis, we are not all in the same position to address it—including when it comes to vaccine access. For that reason, the Holy See welcomes this debate aimed at spurring efforts to ensure universal access to vaccines.
Scientists and researchers in the public and private sectors have responded to the global crisis with tremendous efforts to produce diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines that contribute to lessening the severity of disease and protecting lives. Universal access to these remedies is essential to overcome the pandemic.
Many gaps still remain, however. For example, whereas high and upper middle income countries have administered more than one hundred and seventy-five (175) doses per hundred people, low income countries have inoculated only thirteen (13). In addition, while vaccines are one of the most cost-effective public health interventions, their costs remain significant for lower income countries. Unfortunately, it is also the case that fragile healthcare systems that struggle to roll out vaccination programs are even less equipped to handle the serious consequences of widespread illness.
This reality should cause us not only to reflect but also to act with determination and solidarity. As Pope Francis stated recently, the international community must “intensify its efforts of cooperation so that all people will have ready access to vaccines,” not as “a matter of convenience or courtesy, but of justice.” The many millions of doses that have been shared through COVAX, bilateral arrangements, and corporate pledges, as well as improvements in distribution, are laudable steps toward that end.
It is paramount that the world commits to ensure universal access to vaccination while also laying a strong foundation for sufficient healthcare capacity and pharmaceutical production in the developing world. Pope Francis underlined the need that “institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization adapt their legal instruments lest monopolistic rules constitute further obstacles to production and to an organized and consistent access to healthcare on a global level.” In this regard, stablishing vaccine production facilities in the Global South would increase production and quicken distribution in regions where many still lack access to COVID-19 vaccination.
Moreover, civil society organizations, including faith-based organizations, have an important role to play in the effort to reach underserved populations with information and vaccines. Many Catholic health organizations are deeply involved in this work.
Lastly, we cannot overlook the economic impacts of the pandemic, which have aggravated the already fragile situations in many countries and amplified disparities in the world. Along those lines, the Holy See urges the international community to address the debt burdens that affect many of the poorest countries, including through debt forgiveness. Such generosity would not only help address the COVID-19 pandemic but also contribute to improvements in healthcare overall.
 Pope Francis, Address at the presentation of letters of credence, 17 December 2021, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2021/december/documents/20211217-nuovi-ambasciatori.html.
 Pope Francis, Address to the Members of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, 10 January 2022, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2022/january/documents/20220110-corpo-diplomatico.html.