Pope Franci arrives at Rome's Colosseum for an International Meeting for Peace with leaders of various religions and confessions on October 07, 2021 in Rome, Italy. On Saturday, he called on bio-tech companies to release the patent on COVID-19 vaccines. Photo by Stefano Spaziani/UPI | License Photo
Oct. 16 (UPI) -- Pope Francis appealed to pharmaceutical companies to drop their patents on COVID-19 vaccines to make them more widely available in poor countries.
Francis made his remarks Saturday during a 38-minute speech delivered via video link to the World Meeting of Popular Movements, which brought together social justice movements from around the world, reports America magazine, a Catholic-focused publication.
The first pope from Latin America, Francis pointed out that only 3 or 4% of the populations of some countries are vaccinated.
"Make a gesture of humanity and allow every country, every people, every human being, to have access to the vaccines," Francis said, according to a transcript of his remarks.
As the pandemic drags on, a sizable gap in access to vaccines has grown between rich and poor countries. Roughly 77% of shots administered worldwide have gone to people in high- and upper-middle-income countries, according to The New York Times vaccine tracker.
In the U.S. and Canada, 67% of the population has had at least one dose of COVID-19, according to the tracker. In Latin America, that number is 60% and 56% in Asia. In the Middle East, 40% of the population has received one dose, and 7.5% in Africa.
Some public health officials have argued that bridging the disparity in vaccination rates is necessary to ending the pandemic and preventing the emergency of highly transmissible variants of the virus, such as the Dela varian. They've criticized upper-income countries for prioritizing booster shots over getting the first doses to the world's poor.
"We will not stop the Delta variant or COVID-19 until the world is vaccinated," Dr. Anna Durbin, director of the Center for Immunization Research at Johns Hopkins University, told reporters last month.
"Data on the need for booster shots is still coming in, but we really need to focus on getting the unvaccinated vaccinated before we can think about booster doses," she said.
In his speech, Francis made other wide-ranging appeals. He asked financial institutions to cancel debt for poor countries, natural resource industries to stop polluting, corporations to make food more accessible to the hungry and arms manufacturers to cease, among others.
"Personal change is necessary, but it is also indispensable to adjust our socio-economic models so that they have a human face, because many models have lost it," said Francis. "And thinking about these situations, I make a pest of myself with my questions. And I go on asking. And I ask everyone in the name of God."