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Below is a summary of the final statement published by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences following the virtual meeting of November 4 and 5, dedicated to the pandemic’s implications for science and health policy.
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS) expresses concern over the fact that COVID-19 adversely impacts especially the poor, and further increases inequality between countries and between generations. The PAS and its partners have identified some thematic areas for science and health policies that can serve all people. Understanding the sources and pathophysiological mechanisms of the disease is essential. The potential continued presence of SARS-CoV-2 – and that of future new infectious diseases – must be considered. New insights from science in the fields of vaccine development and treatments are impressive and promising, and new experiences and approaches in terms of health policy actions must be shared freely.
Fair access to vaccines must be guaranteed, given that the lack of vaccines in poor countries has created a morally indefensible inequity. Further, low vaccination coverage increases the risk of new variants emerging. Vaccine inequity and vaccine nationalism by wealthy countries must end, and the COVAX program – the most important vaccine-related global initiative – must receive much more support. Innovations in diagnostics, testing, and therapies are also promising, but need to be made available across the world.
The optimal management of pandemics in public health systems must remain a priority at the national and international level. The key role of international cooperation in the framework of the WHO is to be strengthened. Care systems are essential in COVID-19 management, and effects on other sectors such as food, education, and public health must be considered. The long-term effects of COVID-19 (Long COVID) are of major concern and necessitate intensive research as well as targeted public health actions. The effects of the infection on children and the psychological consequences of social isolation on the cognitive development of the young need to be considered in related research.
Science has already saved many in the pandemic. Quality of science must be protected from COVID-19 stress. Confronting misinformation and conspiracies about pandemics and vaccines is an important task for science, education, policy, (social) media, and religious communities. Human dignity should be the starting point of reflections on the scientific aspects of the pandemic, and the focus in guiding actions. Inclusive healthcare policies need to be based on truth, justice, solidarity, and fraternity, in keeping with Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti.
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